Moral Pluralism and Political Disagreement

Nathaniel Rutherford

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis addresses two crucial questions of contemporary political theory: why do we disagree about value and how should we respond politically to that disagreement? I make three major arguments that correspond to each of the three sections. I outline and analyse two theories of moral pluralism in Section I, value pluralism and epistemic pluralism, which offer explanations of disagreement about value. Value pluralism is a widely held metaphysical doctrine that makes a claim about the plural nature of value. Epistemic pluralism is a less widely known theory that makes a claim about the difficulty of reasoning about value. I argue that epistemic pluralism is the appropriate form of moral pluralism for political theory because, unlike value pluralism, it does not rely on controversial metaphysical ideas. In Section II I analyse two theories of public reason liberalism, John Rawls’s political liberalism and Gerald Gaus’s justificatory liberalism, both of which develop an account of political legitimacy in light of epistemic pluralism. I reject both theories on the basis that they are incompatible with a commitment to epistemic pluralism. In Section III I develop a political theory of modus vivendi which accords with my account of epistemic pluralism. Building on the work of other modus vivendi theorists I outline a theory of legitimacy that depends on two political conditions, peace and acceptance. In the final chapter I defend my conception of modus vivendi from various criticisms in order to show that a theory of modus vivendi is not a counsel of despair.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Seglow, Jonathan, Supervisor
  • Bacon, Michael, Supervisor
Award date1 Feb 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


  • Modus vivendi
  • John Rawls
  • Political Liberalism
  • Moral Pluralism
  • Epistemic Pluralism
  • Value Pluralism
  • Stability
  • Peace
  • Acceptance
  • Public Reason
  • Liberalism
  • Consensus
  • Disagreement

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