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Franz Mang and Joseph Chan

In contemporary Anglo-American political philosophy, perfectionism is widely understood as the idea that the state may, or should, promote valuable conceptions of the good life and discourage conceptions that are worthless or bad. As such, debates over perfectionism occupy a central place in contemporary political philosophy because political philosophers are deeply concerned about whether or not a liberal state is permitted to promote any particular ethical or religious doctrine or impose it on its citizens. In general, contemporary perfectionists do not argue for the state’s pursuit of any religious doctrine. They only maintain that the state is permitted to make a wide range of public policies with the aim of promoting the good life. These policies, commonly found in liberal democratic societies, may include subsidizing museums and art galleries, preserving cultural heritage, setting up public libraries and providing free access to reading materials, encouraging athletic excellence, conserving nature and biodiversity, and educating citizens about the harm of recreational drugs. Nevertheless, perfectionism remains controversial among philosophers and political scientists. It might be beneficial to take a sympathetic view of perfectionism and consider how perfectionists might defend their position against some of the common objections. These objections mainly include: (a) that the state does not possess legitimate authority to make decisions about the good life and seek to promote it; (b) that perfectionist policies are generally illiberal and paternalistic; and (c) that conceptions of the good life are objects of reasonable disagreement and hence cannot legitimately be promoted by the state. In addition, the nature and importance of perfectionist policies and politics will be discussed.