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Edmund Burke's Value Pluralism

Political Theory
Freedom
Ethics
Liberalism
Normative Theory
Allyn Fives
National University of Ireland, Galway
Allyn Fives
National University of Ireland, Galway
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Abstract

Given his commitment to toleration, Edmund Burke is rightly seen as a moral pluralist. What has largely gone unnoticed, however, is his value pluralism. Whereas moral pluralism refers to normative positions regarding what we have reason to do when faced with diverse considerations, value pluralism is a meta-ethical position regarding how we resolve conflicts between any number of reasons for action. Like Isaiah Berlin, Burke maintains both that we may be faced with value conflicts and that we cannot identify the general rule for their resolution. However, Burke, at times, adopts a weak version of value pluralism, identifying a general rule for the resolution of some moral conflicts. This is the case when he insists liberty cannot exist at all without order and virtue, and when he reassures his readers that toleration of Irish Catholicism poses no threat to the established order. At other times, however, Burke offers a strong version of value pluralism, eschewing any such rule. One of the benefits of doing so is the awareness that toleration may be justified even when contrary to the demands of order and virtue.