Defending Public Reason
27 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2014
Date Written: March 18, 2014
The ideal of public reason has been criticized on the basis that it is, under available interpretations of the ideal, either “too thin” or “too thick”, and also that it creates perverse incentives for insincerity in public life. In the first part of the paper I consider, and rebut, the core case against Public Reason, as advanced by Ronald Dworkin and Jeremy Waldron. Against the charge that it is a toothless ideal (that it is “too thin”) which would eliminate nearly nothing from public discourse, I argue that this objection is tenable only if we adopt an implausibly subjectivist conception of reasonableness used in tandem with the ideal of public reason. Against the charge that it would lead to a drastic erosion of public discourse (hence, that it is “too thick”), I argue that this disregards a distinction between generalized public discourse and advocacy of laws which are to actually become legislation, broadly speaking. I also argue that the stricture of public reason rests on the same type of restrictions on public arguments which we adopt as legitimate in many spheres of argument and justification anyway. In the second part of the paper I argue, against the argument that the ideal of public reason is detrimental to the principle of candour in public, that one should not confuse “strategic” choice of argument, triggered by the concern for efficiency of persuasion or by the principle of respect to the audience, with deception and insincerity.
Keywords: Public reason, liberalism, legitimacy, public justification, John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Jeremy Waldron
JEL Classification: K10, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation