Robert Talisse: “Faith in Democracy”

Watch video from the December 7 Thinking Out of the Lunchbox event featuring Robert Talisse, professor of philosophy, speaking on “Faith in Democracy.”

Citizens in a democratic society share political power as equals. This equality entails that the exercise of political power is legitimate only when it can be justified by reasons that all citizens could endorse. Reasons deriving from religious doctrines are paradigmatic examples of reasons which are not endorsed by all citizens. Consequently, it is widely held that when the state acts on the basis of religious reasons, it acts wrongly. If it is wrong for the state to act on the basis of religious reasons, it is wrong for citizens to vote on the basis of their religious reasons – voting is an act that instructs the state about what to do, and it is wrong to instruct the state to do something that it would be wrong for it to do. Democracy, then, seems to require religious citizens to “bracket” or renounce their religious convictions in public political contexts. This requirement strikes many religious believers as deeply objectionable; in fact, it appears to violate freedom of conscience and religious exercise. So what, then, is the proper role of religious conviction and social action in a democratic society? In this talk, Robert Talisse examines arguments from religious and secular political philosophers and proposes a moral argument for keeping religious and civic obligations separate.

Thinking Out of the Lunchbox is a series of conversations with David Wood, Centennial Professor of Philosophy, Vanderbilt University.