Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Practical Philosophy and Applied Ethics (MA)


Philosophy and Religious Studies

NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Andrew Buchwalter

Second Advisor

Dr. David Jaffee

Third Advisor

Dr. Bryan Bannon

Department Chair

Dr. Hans-Herber Koegler

College Dean

Dr. Barbara Hetrick


This paper explores issues of civility in liberal democracy, and in particular, how civility and civic engagement must be regenerated in order to forward the democratic ideals of equal rights, citizen equality and collective self-government in a meaningful way. Liberal democracy presupposes a level of civility in order to uphold standards of individual liberty and freedom, however as a theory it fails to compel citizens to support levels of mutual respect.

An etymological exploration of the term civility introduces the work of puritan theologian Roger Williams, whose early writings on individual liberty as well as the role of civility and civic engagement can inform popular conversations about civility in modern democracy. This leads to an analysis of Rawlsian liberalism, where Rawls seeks to construct a robust civil society by tying individual duty of civility to an idealization of citizenship.

Final analysis explores the possibility of a modern civil liberalism, as influenced by Roger Williams. A liberal civil realm must recognize the mutual reliance between individual freedom and a collective common good; this will compel citizens to choose to preserve the freedom of all citizens through civil engagement and dialogue. This ideal shares important intersections with Jürgen Habermas’ theory of deliberative democracy, but Williams’ replaces Habermas’ notion of higher-level intersubjectivity with an appeal to individual freedom of conscience. By doing so, the preservation of individual freedom of conscience requires citizen-commitment to an active and engaged civil sphere, making the ideal of civility richer than that of Habermas’ theory. Replacing the duty of civility with a commitment to the preservation and protection of individual liberty through civil dialogue is the best way to rescue modern liberal democracy from its current state of incivility, which threatens the liberty and freedom of citizens and undermines the collective common good.