Norms of Liberty

A Perfectionist Basis for Non-Perfectionist Politics

By (author) Douglas B. Rasmussen, Douglas J. Den Uyl

Paperback - £28.95

Publication date:

15 November 2005

Length of book:

464 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271027012

How can we establish a political/legal order that in principle does not require the human flourishing of any person or group to be given structured preference over that of any other? Addressing this question as the central problem of political philosophy, Norms of Liberty offers a new conceptual foundation for political liberalism that takes protecting liberty, understood in terms of individual negative rights, as the primary aim of the political/legal order.

Rasmussen and Den Uyl argue for construing individual rights as metanormative principles, directly tied to politics, that are used to establish the political/ legal conditions under which full moral conduct can take place. These they distinguish from normative principles, used to provide guidance for moral conduct within the ambit of normative ethics. This crucial distinction allows them to develop liberalism as a metanormative theory, not a guide for moral conduct. The moral universe need not be minimized or morality grounded in sentiment or contracts to support liberalism, they show. Rather, liberalism can be supported, and many of its internal tensions avoided, with an ethical framework of Aristotelian inspiration—one that understands human flourishing to be an objective, inclusive, individualized, agent-relative, social, and self-directed activity.

Norms of Liberty is one of the most important works on liberalism in recent years. The fact that individuals have different views of the good life poses a fundamental dilemma for modern political philosophy. Liberals frequently adopt a stance of moral neutrality, suggestive of relativism, subjectivism, or skepticism, while their opponents advocate a substantive moral view at the expense of individual freedom. Rasmussen and Den Uyl present a brilliant solution by distinguishing between normative principles guiding individual moral conduct and metanormative principles that concern legislation. They argue compellingly that neo-Aristotelian perfectionist ethics can support liberal non-perfectionist politics.”

—Fred D. Miller Jr., Social Philosophy and Policy Center, Bowling Green State University