Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Liberalism, Pluralism and Education

By Timothy M. Fowler


The thesis is an investigation into the proper way a liberal education system should respond to the diversity of opinions that are held in modern societies. The work primarily engages with the philosophy of John Rawls as laid out in his book Political Liberalism. The first section of the thesis defends Rawls' account from its most prominent critics. In particular, I defend Rawls’ response to pluralism. Following this, I analyse the application of political liberalism to education. This reveals a serious problem with Rawls' account: while Rawls responds fairly to pluralism in the case of adults, his model fails to consider the implications of education for children themselves. I develop this objection into an internal problem for Rawls’ theory by showing that children must be counted as full members of the community, which means they cannot be ignored when considering issues of legitimacy. I show that political liberalism, as defended by Rawls, is blind to the effects of different schemes of education on the welfare of children. In light of this, I show that children could reasonably reject Rawls' account; a conclusion which renders Rawls’ model illegitimate.\ud The thesis thus shows that political liberalism fails to deal adequately with the case of education. Further, this case study reveals internal problems with the theory that go beyond the particular example of education. After highlighting this problem, I propose a modification to Rawls' account which can both better respond to the case of education and remain faithful to the core goals of political liberalism. My account is less deferential to parents' wishes than is Rawls’ model, but it does not depend on one contested view of the good life. \ud \u

Publisher: Politics (York)
Year: 2010
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (1971). A Theory of Justice,
  2. (1995). A Treatise on Social Justice, Volume II: Justice as Impartiality,
  3. (2008). Against Perfectionism: Defending Liberal Neutrality,
  4. (2002). Answering Susan; Liberalism, Civil Education and the Status of Younger Persons’
  5. (1995). Anti-Perfectionism and Rawlsian Liberalism’,
  6. (1997). Beyond Neutrality: Perfectionsim and politics, Cambridge:
  7. (2002). Bridging Liberalism and Multiculturalism in American Education’,
  8. (2002). Children, Multiculturalism and Education’,
  9. (1998). Civic Education and Liberal Legitimacy,
  10. (1999). Contractarianism, Liberal Neutrality, and Epistemology’.
  11. (1997). Creating Citizens: Political Education and Liberal Democracy,
  12. (2008). Democratic Authority: A Philosophical Framework.
  13. (2000). Diversity and Distrust: Civic Education in a Multicultural Democracy,
  14. (2007). Does teaching creationism facilitate student autonomy?’,
  15. (1994). Ethics in the public domain,
  16. (1990). Foundations of Liberal Equality’. in The Tanner Lectures on Human Values XI.
  17. (2009). Heaven and Nature,
  18. (2006). Justice and Legitimacy in Upbringing,
  19. (2000). Legitimacy, Unanimity and Perfectionism’,
  20. (2009). Legitimate Parental Partiality’,
  21. (1995). Liberal Civic Education and Religious Fundamentalism: The Case of God vs
  22. (2003). Liberal Neutrality on the Good: An Autopsy’
  23. (2003). Liberal theories of multiculturalism, in ‘Rights, Culture and the Law; themes from the philosophy of Joseph Raz’, Meyer, Paulson and Pogge (eds),
  24. (2001). Liberalism beyond Justice: Citizens, Society and the Boundaires of Political Theory,
  25. (1973). Moral Neutrality and Primary Goods’.
  26. (1993). Moral Pluralism and Political Consensus’ in The Idea of Democracy, Roemer and Hampton (eds), Cambridge:
  27. (1992). Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition. Princeton NJ:
  28. (2006). On Education,
  29. (2001). On Tolerating the Unreasonable’,
  30. (2008). Parent’s Rights: A Role based approach’,
  31. (1993). Political Liberalism,
  32. (2008). Public Education and Intelligent Design.
  33. (2006). Raised in Cultic Groups: The Impact on Development of Certain Aspects of Character’.
  34. Rawls and the Search for Stability,
  35. (1994). Religious Parents, Secular Schools: A Liberal Defence of an Illiberal Education’, The Review of Politics,
  36. (1980). Rights of Children,
  37. (2006). Rumspringa: To be or not to be Amish,
  38. (2009). Should democracy grow up? Children and Voting rights’,
  39. (1980). Social Justice in the Liberal State,
  40. (2007). The Child’s Right to an Open Future’ in Philosophy of Education: An Anthology,
  41. (2006). The God Delusion,
  42. (1986). The Morality of Freedom’,
  43. (1973). The Philosophical Review,
  44. (2003). The reasonableness of pluralism’, in The culture of toleration in diverse societies: Reasonable tolerance, Castiglione and McKinnon (eds), Manchester:
  45. (2004). The Scope of Public Reason’.
  46. (2003). Toleration and the Character of Pluralism’
  47. (1999). Value Pluralism and Liberal Political Theory’,
  48. (1996). with Shapiro, Ian. ‘Democratic Autonomy and Religious Freedom’,

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.