Nicholas Wolterstorff's Reformed epistemology and its challenge to Lockean and Rawlsian liberalism




Coyle, Douglas L.

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This dissertation charts the thought of Nicholas Wolterstorff as it regards his epistemology and political philosophy. It seeks to unfold his theory of democracy, which he calls the consocial position. It begins by introducing the reader to Wolterstorff by relating events and experiences of his life. This background information is important as it has played a vital role in shaping his thought. Next, it moves to explaining basic terms and ideas employed throughout. The basic issue, as Wolterstorff addresses it, is the question of whether citizens of a liberal democracy have a moral duty of religious-reason restraint in their public deliberations. Two basic strands of political theory are proposed as talking partners for Wolterstorff. The first is an Enlightenment public epistemology liberalism that argues for religious-reason restraint on the basis of a foundationalist epistemology. Wolterstorff develops this view through the work of John Locke. He criticizes this position and offers an alternative epistemology to that of foundationalism, which I call innocence epistemology. The second is a Post-Enlightenment public epistemology liberalism that argues for religious-reason restraint on the basis of a political doctrine. Wolterstorff develops this position through the work of John Rawls. He criticizes this position, and in its places offers his consocial position. His consocial position argues for a version of liberal democracy that does not require religious-reason restraint. The consocial position has three theses, none of which require a religious-reason restraint. The first thesis proposes three restraints on public deliberation, namely civility, respect for the law, and justice as the goal of deliberation. The second thesis proposes a particular understanding of the First Amendment as it regards government and religion. It calls for a position of impartiality, not neutrality. The third thesis proposes justice in shalom. This conception of justice has two primary components, namely a notion of rights, and a notion of prioritizing the evil of violating personhood.


Includes bibliographical references (p. 282-320).