Reason of State and Public Reason

Wojciech Sadurski

The University of Sydney Law School

October 10, 2011

Ratio Juris, 2014, Forthcoming
Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 11/68

'Reason of state' is a concept that is rarely used in contemporary legal and political philosophy (in contrast to everyday parlance); 'public reason' is ubiquitous, however, especially in liberal philosophy, as a legitimacy-conferring device. In this paper, written for an international symposium on Reason of State at Tsinghua University Law School in Beijing, it is argued that the unpopularity of the notion of 'reason of state' is partly due to its notorious ambiguity. Three different usages of the notion can be identified: a 'thin' usage (where 'reason of state' is equivalent to the common good), an 'ironical' usage (where it is used pejoratively to denounce a pretext to apply illegitimate or illegal means) and a 'pre-emptive' usage (where 'reason of state' acts as a legitimate second-order exclusionary reason to override otherwise mandatory first-order rules of action). It is argued that only the “thin” use is helpful, in a by-and-large liberal-democratic context. The paper then discusses the main dilemmas related to the concept of public reason, especially in the most influential, Rawlsian interpretation, and defends the concept against the usual critiques. In the end, the two concepts are compared and it is argued that a 'thin' usage of 'reason of state' is functionally equivalent to public reason and that both resonate with the theory of 'input democracy' (focusing, as it does, on the legitimacy of reasons – or motivations – for applying coercive rules to individuals). A problematic (and distinguishing) feature of “reason of state” is its emphasis on the state, as a privileged interpreter of such reasons and/or as identifying the range within which the 'constituency' of public reason is ascertained. There are good reasons to resist both of these consequences: the former because of its potentially authoritarian consequences, the latter because of reasons provided by cosmopolitan political conceptions.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 28

Keywords: public reason, reason of state, legitimacy, liberalism, common good, John Rawls, Pihilp Pettit, Robert Goodin

JEL Classification: K10, K30

Open PDF in Browser Download This Paper

Date posted: October 10, 2011 ; Last revised: December 4, 2013

Suggested Citation

Sadurski, Wojciech, Reason of State and Public Reason (October 10, 2011). Ratio Juris, 2014, Forthcoming; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 11/68. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1941546

Contact Information

Wojciech Sadurski (Contact Author)
The University of Sydney Law School ( email )
New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

Feedback to SSRN

Paper statistics
Abstract Views: 951
Downloads: 213
Download Rank: 112,818