Public reasons or public justification: conceptualizing “can” and the elimination of exclusion in politics.

Date

2011-08-10

Authors

Tonkin, Ryan

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Abstract

In this essay, I aim to elucidate a concept of public justification. I outline several challenges faced by political philosophers, including a desire to secure stability and treat people respectfully against a background of reasonable pluralism. I suggest that John Rawls‟ account of public reason provides a helpful starting point for accomplishing these goals. But critics have been both persistent and persuasive in their objections to public reason‟s central element of reasons all can accept. I explicate three dominant criticisms: incomprehensibility, attenuation and exclusion. First, some critics have argued that the very idea of reasons all can accept cannot be plausibly articulated. Second, critics maintain that the set of reasons all can accept is insufficiently robust to solve constitutional essentials and matters of basic justice. Third, critics note that if public justification is constrained by reasons all can accept, then many informative and effective arguments must be excluded from the public sphere. In response to these criticisms, I argue for an interpretation of reasons all can accept which is sensitive to critics‟ reasonable demand for an explicit account of each element of the doctrine. My interpretation demonstrates the superfluity of what I call the sharability constraint—the thesis that only reasons acceptable to all can function as justifications in the public sphere. Once the sharability constraint is rejected, I argue that the problem of exclusion dissipates, but that substantive restrictions on acceptable reasons are still possible. I am optimistic that this approach is less attenuating than one constrained by sharability and that, at least under favourable empirical conditions, more problems can be resolved by this approach than by standard Rawlsian theory. I draw on actual convergence in the international realm to bolster this optimism. Finally, I relate this approach to the widespread influence of deliberative democracy. I argue that procedural apparatuses are insufficient for political legitimacy, but that deliberation may be an invaluable tool for uncovering reasons required by substantive justification.

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Keywords

Public Reason, John Rawls, Gerald Gaus, Liberalism, Political Liberalism, Political Philosophy, Religious Reasons, Public Justification, Political Coercion, Deliberative Democracy, Reasons All Can Accept

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