Rethinking Modern Citizenship: Towards a Politics of Integrity and Virtue

Doctoral Dissertation


There is a malaise at large in our modern liberal democracies arising from the failure of our public life to be grounded in, and in turn inspire, our deepest moral questions and our ceaseless quest for ethical integrity or wholeness. Many current ideals of citizenship expressly or implicitly require citizens to subordinate their most cherished ethical commitments to the norms of liberal citizenship. Critics have pointed out that this amounts to a deeply problematic bifurcation of the moral life. However, they have failed to develop an alternative vision of citizenship that both accommodates integrity and addresses the challenges of a modern pluralistic polity, such as toleration, respect, and political stability. This is the principal task I set myself here, drawing on the strengths of Aristotle’s account of the virtues but also embracing values and practices central to the liberal tradition such as representative democracy, personal liberty, rule of law, and a free market economy.

Chapter 1 is a broad introduction to and overview of the project. Chapter 2 outlines John Rawls’s “political liberal" ideal of citizenship, while chapter 3 shows that the Rawlsian ideal of citizenship is not viable, since it both fails its own test of legitimacy and egregiously undermines the integrity of citizens. In Chapter 4 I develop a positive account of the virtue of integrity and address some typical liberal objections against this virtue. Chapter 5 offers a deeper and broader diagnosis of the inadequacy of political liberalism by tracing this inadequacy to the assumptions of twentieth century contractualist moral theory. Finally, in chapter 6 I sketch part of an aretaic or virtue-ethical account of citizenship that merges insights from virtue ethics with insights from the liberal tradition. The aretaic account claims to be both more accommodating of integrity than contractualist models, and better equipped to understand and address traditional problems confronting a liberal regime, such as respect and political stability.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-04212006-233234

Author David Thunder
Advisor Michael Zuckert
Contributor David Solomon, Committee Member
Contributor Mary Keys, Committee Member
Contributor Fred Dallmayr, Committee Member
Contributor Michael Zuckert, Committee Chair
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Political Science
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2006-02-22

Submission Date 2006-04-21
  • United States of America

  • contractualism

  • virtue

  • virtue ethics

  • integrity

  • Rawls

  • public reason

  • citizenship

  • morality and politics

  • political liberalism

  • contractarianism

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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