Civil Disagreement

Personal Integrity in a Pluralistic Society

Edward Langerak

"Discussions in the area that Langerak is dealing with are full of terminological confusion; crucial terms are used with different meanings. Langerak performs a great service in drawing distinctions that dispel the confusion."
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How can we agree to disagree in today’s pluralistic society, one in which individuals and groups are becoming increasingly polarized by fierce convictions that are often at odds with the ideas of others? Civil Disagreement: Personal Integrity in a Pluralistic Society shows how we can cope with diversity and be appropriately open toward opponents even while staying true to our convictions. This accessible and useful guide discusses how our conversations and arguments can respect differences and maintain personal integrity and civility even while taking stances on disputed issues. The author examines an array of illustrative cases, such as debates over slavery, gay marriage, compulsory education for the Amish, and others, providing helpful insights on how to take firm stands without denigrating opponents. The author proposes an approach called “perspective pluralism” that honors the integrity of various viewpoints while avoiding the implication that all reasonable views are equally acceptable or true.

Civil Disagreement offers a concise yet comprehensive guide for students and scholars of philosophical or religious ethics, political or social philosophy, and political science, as well as general readers who are concerned about the polarization that often seems to paralyze national and international politics.

Table of Contents


1. Conversations and Arguments
States of Nature
Convictions, Commitments, and Integrity
Uses of Conversation
Four Types of Claims
Conversations and Arguments

2. Conflicts and Pluralisms
Reasonable Pluralism
Value Pluralism
Religious Pluralism
Perspective Pluralism
Pluralism and Other Isms

3. Toleration and Respect
Toleration and Tolerance
History of Toleration
Justifications: Prudence and Principle
Cooperation and Compromise
Variations on Civil Disagreement

4. Laws and Dissenters
Civil Disagreement about Legislating Laws
Accomodating Dissenters

5. Civil Disagreement: Conclusion

Works Cited



"Langerak’s insightful work comes at an important moment in the history of American intellectual discourse. This moment is shaped by a dilemma over how to insure the free flow of ideas in a pluralistic society while protecting the most vulnerable. Conversely, our society should safeguard tolerant safe spaces, so as to protect and empower the underprivileged voices of the socially marginalized. Simultaneously, however, we must ensure a fruitful debate forum, often accompanied by the healthy discomfort of confrontation in disagreement. With wit and terminological precision, Langerak provides a framework for living within this tension: one meant to help persons navigate disagreements over important, often fundamental, social, political, and religious questions."—Religious Studies Review-MS 156

"Discussions in the area that Langerak is dealing with are full of terminological confusion; crucial terms are used with different meanings. Langerak performs a great service in drawing distinctions that dispel the confusion."—FAITH AND PHILOSOPHY

"[This] book, the culmination of a long career of sensitive thinking and teaching on this subject, might be regarded as the last of its breed"—Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"A worthy and timely contribution, arguably most laudable for its efforts to offer an alternative to the rash demonization and apathetic polarization that typically define contemporary political discourse in the United States."—Theological Studies

"This mature and philosophically sophisticated work makes an important contribution not only to the ethics of pluralism but to the even greater question of ethics—'How should we live?'—and its necessary correlate, 'How can we disagree yet live together in peace?'"—Lloyd Steffen, professor, Religious Studies, Lehigh University

"Edward Langerak’s book on political thought is a gem. Obviously, the author has lived a long time with one of the vexing problems in the West: how to engage in civil disagreement in a pluralistic society with personal integrity—without either unraveling the society or rivening (or silencing) the deep convictions of its participants. The book is masterfully organized, patiently clarifying where confusions (such as those among pluralism, liberalism, and relativism) would lead astray, and insightful throughout. Both the main text and the notes supply readers with a fine account of the lifelong conversations that went into the making of this splendid volume."—William F. May, former president of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Christian Ethics, the emeritus Cary M. Maguire Professor of Ethics at Southern Methodist University. He is the author of Beleaguered Rulers: The Public Obligation of the Professional and Testing the National Covenant: Fears and Appetities in American Politics


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Edward Langerak is professor emeritus, St. Olaf College, where he taught ethics and philosophy for over four decades, holding the Boldt/NEH Distinguished Teaching Chair in the Humanities from 2000 to 2003. He has been a recipient of the Woodrow Wilson, Kent (Danforth Foundation), and National Humanities Foundation fellowships.

184 pp., 6 x 9

Mar 2014

184 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-62616-033-0
Mar 2014

184 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-62616-034-7
Mar 2014

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