Skepticism, Citizenship and the Sustainability of Cultural Diversity

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In Canada, cultural diversity is both a political fact and an official political value. But a marked increase in immigration raises the question of its sustainability. I argue citizens come to value and support diversity only under conditions of individual equality and political toleration. In many ways, Canada’s constitution and public culture of mutual respect is a working expression of this premise. At issue is how to interpret the idea of ‘toleration’. Canadian politicians must address tensions between two competing expressions of toleration: group accommodation and individual expressive conscience. Some Canadians emphasize the respect due to group values at the cost of respect for individual conscience. Fundamentalist Mormon community of ‘Bountiful’, British Columbia, is a theocracy, closed to non-Mormons. There is no public educational curriculum, no public library system, and education of girls past puberty is prohibited, except in housewifery. Polygyny is a religious obligation (with excess population of boys expelled after puberty). Male authority over women is sanctioned both by the community and orthodox religious interpretation. Children are taught that access to God and eternal salvation occurs only through husbands and fathers. (Rejecting male dominance is akin to leaving God.) When men morally err women may be held responsible. The case of Bountiful raises questions: “When group values systematically obstruct the conditions for meaningful individual choice, does the public still have a duty to accommodate the group as part of the public value of diversity?” More forcefully: “Does the public have a right to interfere and remove barriers to the development of the deliberative, creative and expressive capacities necessary for valuing diversity in the first place?” I utilize the doctrines of fallibilism and skepticism to show that citizen’s ‘appreciating and genuinely valuing diversity’ requires a public ethic of enquiry, which nurtures all individuals’ deliberative, creative and expressive capacities and the capacities to appreciate varying perspectives across multiple paradigms. The limits of public respect for group values therefore ends with groups who would deny individuals the opportunity to develop these capacities.


Keywords: Skepticism, Toleration, Cultural Sustainability, Canadian Multicultural Policy, Immigration
Stream: Social Sustainability
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Christie Sandford

Ph.D. Student, Department of Philosophy, Simon Fraser University
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

I am currently undertaking doctoral research in political philosophy at Simon Fraser University, in Canada, Department of Philosophy. I received both a Bachelor of Arts degree, with first class honours in philosophy, and a Master's degree in political philosophy (Centre of Applied Ethics) from the University of British Columbia, also in Canada. Related work includes research assistantships, travel, interviewing and crafting courseware for the Salvation Army Centre of Applied Ethics, in Winnipeg, Canada and paid research for Simon Fraser University Philosophy Department in the area of 17th Century English political philosophy and philosophical skepticism. I was awarded the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Scholarship ($50,000.00) and the Federalism and Federations Scholarship ($10,000.00) in my second year of the Ph.D. Program.

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