Political Education and Public Reason
24 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 24 Aug 2011
Date Written: 2011
Public reason has often been defended as an ornament of ideal theory: as such, its practical contributions to democratic politics are unclear. And yet a shared understanding of the appropriateness of offering public reasons and an expectation that public officials and citizens should do so, is frequently discernible in our political practice, and often plays a salutary role. I explore public reason’s practical -- educative and formative roles. In doing so, I depart from the typical framing which emphasizes that the state’s coercive powers give rise to an urgent problem of political legitimacy. That framing is inadequate and may mislead because healthy liberal democracies require a fair degree of quasi-voluntary participation in the enforcement and contestation of law; public reason plays a role in fostering and coordinating this decentralized participation. Drawing on positive as well as normative theory, I argue that public reason helps solve problems of mutual assurance on the basis of common knowledge, furnishes resources for the joint interpretation and application of law, and helps educate and integrate new groups and rising generations. It also facilitates important practices of mutual accountability, and perhaps also, social diversity.
Keywords: Liberalism, law, public reason, justification, diversity, religion
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