Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article

Moral Disagreement in a Democracy

Amy Gutmanna1 and Dennis Thompsona2

a1 Political Theory, Princeton University

a2 Political Theory, Harvard University

Moral disagreement about public policies—issues such as abortion, affirmative action, and health care—is a prominent feature of contemporary American democracy. Yet it is not a central concern of the leading theories of democracy. The two dominant democratic approaches in our time—procedural democracy and constitutional democracy—fail to offer adequate responses to the problem of moral disagreement. Both suggest some elements that are necessary in any adequate response, but neither one alone nor both together are sufficient. We argue here that an adequate conception of democracy must make moral deliberation an essential part of the political process. What we call “deliberative democracy” adds an important dimension to the theory and practice of politics that the leading conceptions of democracy neglect.

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