Research

My primary areas of research lie in political philosophy, ethics, philosophy of religion and political economy. Additional interests include the history of political philosophy (particularly the history of liberalism and of church-state conflicts) and the intersection of economics and ethics, especially economic justice. Presently, I am engaged in three research projects.

Reconciling Public Reason Liberalism with Religious Conviction

Defenders of the dominant Rawlsian orthodoxy in political philosophy, “public reason” or “justificatory” liberalism have mistakenly interpreted the ideal of public reason and public justification in ways that are unjustifiably hostile to religion and other non-public ideals and values. For instance, orthodox public reason liberals often emphasize the need for a fund of shared reasons on which everyone endorses principles of justice. However, what matters is that citizens have a shared commitment to the same principles of justice and institutional structures, not that these be endorsed for the same reasons. Many reasons are not shared, especially religious reasons; by barring unshared reasons from entering into public justification, public reason liberals prevent non-public ideals and values from grounding liberal institutions. You can see me talk about my research project in this area here. I have developed these ideas in my recent book, Liberal Politics and Public Faith: Beyond Separation.

Public Reason after Rawls

In the Anglo-American public reason tradition, Rawls is the father of us all. But the public reason tradition has evolved since Political Liberalism and “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited,” Rawls’s last crucial works on the subject. A host of fascinating new problems have arisen that require a response. I believe that attempts to solve these problems will lead to unexplored and fruitful research programs within the tradition. In my view, public reason liberalism is a living research project rather than an exegesis of Rawls. No matter how great Rawls was, he is someone we should build on, not merely look up to. Rawls’s version of public reason liberalism has many difficulties; we must see where advances might be made. Standing on the shoulders of giants extends our vision, but bowing before them restricts it.

In light of this, I develop my own account of public reason liberalism in my forthcoming book, Must Politics Be War? In Defense of Public Reason Liberalism. I ground public reason in the value of social trust between diverse persons and generate an account of public reason based on the value in having a moral and political order under which social trust is rationally sustainable. In this way, the liberal institutions embraced by public reason are a way of establishing moral peace between persons.

Economic Rationality and Economic Justice

Contemporary political philosophy has left unexplored the deep linkages between conceptions of economic justice and economic rationality. For instance, few political philosophers grasp the central role that Keynesian economics, welfare economics, and a general equilibrium theory of prices play within Rawls’s theory of economic justice. I believe that careful attention to economic concepts and economic rationality will substantially reorient the process by which political philosophers develop theories of economic justice.