Norm wonders whether there isn't a "tension" or "paradox" in liberalism's claim for the "moral primacy" of liberal pluralism, and suggests that Ophelia Benson has misconstrued it in her response to Norm's original post:
like adherents of
a single 'road to salvation' or an 'overriding moral truth', adherents
of a liberal moral and political framework do also claim a moral
primacy - universal validity, whatever - for some of their own beliefs:
for the very principles informing that liberal framework. The fact that
there are relevant differences between liberalism and such other,
non-liberal, belief systems - differences that Ophelia and I will agree
are in liberalism's favour - doesn't show that there isn't this feature
in common between them, or resolve the particular tension I was
I assume Norm thinks Ophelia is wrongly supposing that the tension he identified can be dissolved by distinguishing between the content of liberalism (pluralism, openness to discussion and so on), on the one hand, and the belief in a single "road to salvation" on the other. But he is arguing that the tension, if there is one, derives from the claims liberals make about the status of their most basic values.
Now, I too might be missing something in Norm's original formulation of the problem, but it seems to me that the difficulty or tension only arises on the assumption that liberal pluralism flows from a
kind of moral scepticism or irrealism about values - if, in other words, one misdescribes or misunderstands liberal values in such a way that one becomes wary of describing them as true. The problem with that is that if the commitment
to pluralism or toleration didn't rest on a substantive moral commitment (Norm's claim for "moral primacy"), then
there'd be no reason not to simply prohibit or suppress views or ways
of life we disdain.
Of course, I don't suppose for a minute that Norm misunderstands liberal values in the way I've just described. Which is why I'm less sure than he is that there's a genuine tension or paradox here. Rather, what I think both his posts do is precisely to point up the moral commitments underpinning liberalism and to remind us that its allegiance to values like toleration and equality can't mean that it is neutral among all ways of life or belief systems.