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What Can Philosophy Teach Us About Multiculturalism?*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 April 2010

Arthur Ripstein
University of Toronto


Multiculturalism is an increasingly important topic for philosophers, largely because of the practical problems posed by diversity. Traditional political philosophy had little to say about cultural difference, taking the existence of a shared language and culture pretty much for granted. The multicultural societies of the contemporary world make such assumptions untenable. Traditional questions of fairness and sovereignty find hard cases in such policy issues as immigration, education, criminal law, and freedom of expression.

Critical Notices/Études critiques
Copyright © Canadian Philosophical Association 1997

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1 Hume, David, “Of National Characters,” in Essays Moral, Literary, and Political (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Press, 1982).Google Scholar

2 See, e.g., Walzer, Michael, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality (New York: Basic Books, 1983).Google Scholar

3 Princeton, 1992. See my critical notice, Recognition and Cultural Membership,” Dialogue 34, 2 (Spring 1995): 331–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4 Kakuthis has discussed cultural difference elsewhere. See Are There Any Cultural Rights?Political Theory, 20, 1 (1992): 105–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The connections between those views and his account of moral knowledge is not made clear.

5 See “Cross Purposes” in Rosenblum, Nancy, ed., Liberalism and the Moral Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6 Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

7 This point is also made in Spinner, Jeff, The Boundaries of Citizenship (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), p. 145.Google Scholar

8 For example, many insular cultural groups, such as the Satmar Hasidim, isolate themselves from many aspects of the surrounding culture but manage nonetheless to influence politics by voting in blocks.

9 Spinner, The Boundaries of Citizenship, p. 77.

10 A point made in Bissoondath, Neil, Selling Illusions (Toronto: Penguin Canada, 1994).Google Scholar

11 Thus, he does not take up the charge recently made by Neil Bissoondath that those immigrants came having been assured that Canada was a multicultural society in which their cultures would survive.

12 See Rawls, John, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).Google Scholar

13 This example is complicated, because some Muslim leaders claimed to be concerned about Rushdie's effects on anti-Muslim prejudices. However, as Kymlicka points out, there is some reason to suspect that some Muslim leaders sought to control apostasy (p. 43).

14 Alternatively, the state might treat them as only partial citizens. Jeff Spinner suggests that this is the way the United States treats the Amish. See The Boundaries of Citizenship.

15 Indeed, Kymlicka criticizes Tamir's, Yael defence of nationalism on just these grounds in “Misunderstanding Nationalism,” Dissent (Winter 1995): 135Google Scholar. Tamir, advocates making virtue out of necessity in her Liberal Nationalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).Google Scholar

16 Kymlicka hopes to distinguish his position from what has recently come to be called “identity politics,” the view that political rights should be differentiated in order to enable people to express their true identities. Yet Kymlicka's comprehensive view shares with those views the idea that political life is fundamentally expressive. Debates about our “true” interests, whether as choosers or as bearers of a culture (or as both!), distract attention from more important debates about fairness.