Why Public Reason? Citizens’ Reasons and the Constitution of the Public Sphere
37 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2010 Last revised: 22 Oct 2010
Date Written: August 23, 2010
Some have recently argued that the ideal of public reason not only accords insufficient respect or freedom to some citizens, including some religious citizens, but in addition, it is superfluous. It is enough, according to Jeffrey Stout, Gerald Gaus, and others, if citizens converge on shared principles of justice. No practical purpose is served by the project of seeking to secure consensus on a common, public justification for such principles (what Rawls would call a shared “political conception”). This paper seeks to make the case that seeking to secure a common justification for our most basic principles does serve a variety of practical imperatives. These include greater guidance for public officials charged with interpreting and applying the principles, and greater stability based on deeper mutual assurance of our shared moral commitment to principles of justice. In addition, a shared moral justification can be expected to play an educative role over the course of time. I argue that all of these consequences are most important for the least well off (and most vulnerable) in society, who benefit most from the greater assurance that their fellow citizens are committed to justice.
Keywords: liberalism, religion, democracy, public reason, citizenship, justice, diversity, Rawls, libertarianism
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