Perfectionist public space: a political philosophy approach

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7 Scopus citations


Public spaces are often sites of contention between competing conceptions of the good life. The potential for such conflicts increases in diverse societies where different ethnic, religious and cultural groups compete for space and representation in the public sphere. A paradigmatic example is the conflict between multiculturalism and conservatism towards the function and character of public spaces. A clear criterion is necessarily, in such conflicts, to determine which conception may be legitimately crowded-out, and which may prevail. The paper examines two strategies to justify such a criterion: a liberal approach and a perfectionist approach. According to the liberal approach, public spaces should reflect the pluralism of values in society, by combining multiplicity and coherence of values. Yet pluralism is too ambiguous a concept to determine, in practice, which conceptions of the good can legitimately be crowded-out, both physically and metaphorically, from the public sphere. Perfectionism, an ethical approach grounded in human developmentalism, holds that the good life is a life of developing and exercising our human capacities. This approach yields a substantive account of public space regulation: public spaces should promote the development and exercise of our human capacities. On this account, we can approach the conflict between competing claims on public spaces by asking whether crowding-out might harm the potential development and exercise of our capacities. The perfectionist approach also provides a finer distinction between different types of conservatisms, such that we may differentiate between conservatism that may be legitimately crowded-out from the spatial sphere, and conservatism which may prevail. This paper argues that a perfectionist approach—one which is explicitly committed to a view of the good life—is both necessary and timely.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-49
Number of pages20
JournalSpace and Polity
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2018


  • liberalism
  • minarets
  • neutrality
  • perfectionism
  • Public space

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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