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CPP Colloquium: The Theory and Practice of Natural Liberty

  • Gerald Gaus
Wednesday 9 September 2015
CPP Colloquia 2015-2016 & 2016-2017
Reuvensplaats 3-4
2311 BE Leiden

The Center for Political Philosophy in Leiden is delighted to announce a talk by Gerald Gaus(Arizona), entitled: 

“Moral Learning in the Open Society: The Theory and Practice of Natural Liberty”  


According to the principle of natural liberty, there is a general presumption in favor of freedom of action. An agent does not need a permission granted by any moral rule R, in order to perform an action, f, without moral fault. This paper focuses on the question: is a commitment to natural liberty, as the default in a system of rules, somehow implicit in our moral thinking? Our answer is mixed: there are indeed coherent systems of moral rules that are not based on a principle of natural liberty. These systems seem at least minimally viable in the sense that they can meet a basic criterion of social morality identified by Kurt Baier — they can be taught, and passed on to, all normal members of the social order. 

However, we report findings in a series of experiments which indicate that, in the face of ambiguity about the nature of the moral system (whether or not it accepts some idea of natural liberty as the default) moral learners are inclined suppose that their system is indeed one of natural liberty. Perhaps more importantly, we argue that systems of social morality based on a principle of natural liberty have a decisive advantage over their competitors: they are well adapted to effectively exploring the constant novel circumstances that arise in open, dynamic, societies. 

The paper, co-authored with Shaun Nichols (Arizona), is available as PDF

About Gerald Gaus

Gerald Gaus is the James E. Rogers Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona, where he directs the program in Philosophy, Politics, Economics & Law. He works in social and political philosophy, normative ethics, political economy, philosophy and economics. Over the last years, his main focus has been on public reason and diversity. His latest books on this topic include Contemporary Theories of Liberalism: Public Reason as a Post-Enlightenment Project (London: Sage, 2003) and The Order of Public Reason (Cambridge University Press, 2011). The core of his recent writing has been the idea of a "public morality" that provides a common framework in which people pursue diverse ideals. He develops this concept in his forthcoming book The Tyranny of the Ideal(Princeton University Press). 

Gaus’ papers have been published in, among others, Ethics; Social Philosophy and Policy;Politics, Philosophy and EconomicsJournal of Political PhilosophyJournal of Value InquiryCRISPPAmerican Philosophical Quarterly. He has contributed to, among others, the Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophyInternational Encyclopedia of EthicsBlackwell Companion to Applied EthicsOxford Handbook of Distributive Justice and Research Methods in Analytic Political Theory.

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