The Ethics of Reasoning from Conjecture

20 Pages Posted: 24 Dec 2010 Last revised: 7 Feb 2011

See all articles by Micah Schwartzman

Micah Schwartzman

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: December 10, 2010


An important objection to political liberalism is that it provides no means by which to decide conflicts between public and non-public reasons. This article develops John Rawls’s idea of "reasoning from conjecture" as one way to argue for a commitment to public reason. Reasoning from conjecture is a form of nonpublic justification that allows political liberals to reason from within the comprehensive views of at least some unreasonable citizens. After laying out the basic features of this form of nonpublic justification, this article responds to three objections based on concerns about insincerity, cultural imperialism, and the epistemic authority of those who reason from conjecture.

Keywords: political liberalism, public reason, nonpublic reason, justification, Rawls

Suggested Citation

Schwartzman, Micah, The Ethics of Reasoning from Conjecture (December 10, 2010). Journal of Moral Philosophy, Forthcoming; Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2011-02. Available at SSRN: or

Micah Schwartzman (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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