Anti-foundationalism and liberal democracy: Richard Rorty and the role of religion in the public sphere.




Curry, Mary Jo

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The purpose of this paper is to critically examine Richard Rorty’s arguments in favour of a limited role for religion in the public sphere, both with regard to their practical value and their consistency with Rorty’s other philosophical commitments. A brief description of Rorty’s various philosophical commitments is followed by a detailed analysis of the negative practical consequences that can be foreseen resulting from Rorty’s approach to the topic of religion and any attempt to enforce his proposed treatment of religion. After looking at the practical problems with Rorty’s position, a closer look was taken at Rorty’s consistency across his philosophical writings. With a particular focus on Rorty’s pragmatism and his epistemic relativism the author concludes that Rorty’s arguments for reducing the influence of religion in the public sphere remain of questionable practicality and, furthermore, are at odds with his epistemological commitments. Rorty’s commitment to liberal democracy entails a commitment to protecting citizens’ rights to voice their opinions in hopes of influencing public policy. Despite his controversial writings with regards to the role of religion in society, authors such as Jeffrey Stout and Nicholas Wolterstorff provide alternative approaches to the appropriate treatment of religion in society that remain consistent with an anti-foundational commitment to liberal democracy and can expect to produce more favourable practical outcomes.



Liberal Democracy, Religion, Public Reason, Richard Rorty, Pragmatism, Epistemic Relativism, Political Liberalism, Secularism