Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: December 2010

7 - Standard Objections to Public Reason


In the first part of this chapter, I defend public reason against a number of well-known objections and then try to explain its appeal in a society like our own. An ideal of public justification cannot be too controversial if it is to serve as the mode of public reasoning that will help us to resolve constitutional disputes as fairly as possible. Those who are reasonable but have different conceptions of good must use the same principle of public reason when they exchange reasons with one another to narrow the range of their initial disagreement. I shall show that none of these objections is compelling and that some of them rest on misconceptions about the nature of Rawlsian public reason.

In doing so, I deviate from Rawls's own view by insisting that people who are not judges should not feel obligated to limit themselves to public reasons when they deliberate and vote on the most important political questions. Public deliberation should be as participatory and open ended as possible to enable everyone to express their sentiments and articulate their deepest convictions. My position is distinct, then, from that of Rawls, who believes that citizens and public officials should have a self-imposed duty to limit themselves to sufficiently public reasons in certain circumstances. Instead, I believe that judges should limit themselves and others to public reasons when they exercise the power of judicial review.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Dworkin, Ronald, Justice in Robes (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 2006), 252–3
Barry, Brian, The Liberal Theory of Justice (Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1973), 127
Holmes, Stephen, The Anatomy of Antiliberalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 244
Kronman, Anthony T., Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), esp. 9–35
Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Thomson, J.A.K. (London: Penguin Books, 1988), 68
Taylor, Charles, Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), esp. 495–521
Taylor, Charles, “Cross-Purposes: The Liberal-Communitarian Debate, in Philosophical Arguments (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 186
Arneson, Richard J., “The Priority of the Right over the Good Rides Again,” 108 Ethics (1997), 169–96
Sandel, Michael J., “Justice and the Good,” in Liberalism and Its Critics, ed. Sandel, Michael J. (New York: New York University Press, 1984), 159–76
Alejandro, Roberto, “Rawls's Communitarianism,” 23 Canadian Journal of Philosophy (1993), 78–9
Kant, Immanuel, “The Doctrine of Virtue,” in The Metaphysics of Morals, ed. and trans. Gregor, Mary (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 147
Audi, Robert, Religious Commitment and Secular Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 70
Marneffe, Peter, “Liberalism, Liberty, and Neutrality,” 19 Philosophy and Public Affairs (1990), 254
Chan, Joseph, “Legitimacy, Unanimity, and Perfectionism,” 29 Philosophy and Public Affairs (2000), 8, n.8
Nagel, Thomas, “Rawls and Liberalism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Rawls, ed. Freeman, Samuel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 77
George, Robert P. and Wolfe, Christopher, “Natural Law and Liberal Public Reason,” 42 American Journal of Jurisprudence (1997), 31
Berkowitz, Peter, “The Ambiguities of Rawls's Influence,” 4 Perspectives on Politics (2006), 124
Rawls, John, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 243, n.32
Westmoreland, Robert, “The Truth about Public Reason,” 18 Law and Philosophy (1999), 283–4
Singer, Peter, Animal Liberation (New York: Harper Collins, 1975)
Regan, Tom, The Case for Animal Rights (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983)
Rawls, John, “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited,” in The Law of Peoples (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 169n80
Sunstein, Cass R., Why Societies Need Dissent (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 177
Mill, John Stuart, On Liberty and Other Writings, ed. Collini, Stephan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), esp. 5–18
Neal, Patrick, “Is Public Reason Innocuous?11 Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (2008), 140
Young, Iris Marion, “Difference as a Resource for Democratic Communication,” in Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics, ed. Bohman, James and Rehg, William (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997), 383–406
Bellamy, Richard, Liberalism and Pluralism: Towards a Politics of Compromise (New York: Routledge, 1999), 58
Horton, John, “Rawls, Public Reason and the Limits of Liberal Justification,” 2 Contemporary Political Theory (2003), 18
Benhabib, Seyla, Situating the Self: Gender, Community and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics (New York: Routledge, 1992), 102
Solum, Lawrence B., “Novel Public Reasons,” 29 Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review (1996), 1477
Waldron, Jeremy, “Religious Contributions in Public Deliberation,” 30 San Diego Law Review (1993), 838
Galston, William A., Liberal Purposes: Goods, Virtues, and Diversity in the Liberal State, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 109
Galston, William A., Liberal Pluralism: The Implications of Value Pluralism for Political Theory and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 116
Charney, Evan, “Political Liberalism, Deliberative Democracy, and the Public Sphere,” 92 American Political Science Review (1998), 101
Raz, Joseph, “Facing Diversity: The Case of Epistemic Abstinence,” 19 Philosophy and Public Affairs (1990), 4
Wolterstorff, Nicholas, “The Role of Religion in Political Issues,” Religion in the Public Square, ed. Audi, Robert and Wolterstorff, Nicholas (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997), 104–5
Smolin, David M., “Regulating Religious and Cultural Conflict in a Postmodern America: A Response to Professor Perry,” 76 Iowa Law Review (1991), 1067
Greenawalt, Kent, “On Public Reason,” 69 Chicago-Kent Law Review (1994), 683
Wolterstorff, Nicholas, “Why We Should Reject What Liberalism Tells Us about Speaking and Acting in Public for Religious Reasons,” in Religion and Contemporary Liberalism, ed. Weithman, Paul J. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997), 162–81
Carter, Stephen L., Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivializes Religious Devotion (New York: Anchor Books, 1993)
Neuhaus, Richard John, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdsmans, 1994)
Neal, Patrick, “Political Liberalism, Public Reason, and the Citizen of Faith,” in Natural Law and Public Reason, ed. George, Robert P. and Wolfe, Christopher (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2000), 184
Freeman, Samuel, Rawls (New York: Routledge, 2007), 371
Kelly, Erin and McPherson, Lionel, “On Tolerating the Unreasonable,” 9 Journal of Political Philosophy (2001), 39
Marneffe, Peter, “Rawls's Idea of Public Reason,” 75 Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (1994), 234
Barry, Brian, “John Rawls and the Search for Stability,” 105 Ethics (1995), 874–915
Dawkins, Richard, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), esp. 317–87
Solum, Lawrence, “Constructing an Ideal of Public Reason,” 30 San Diego Law Review (1993), 741
Raz, Joseph, The Morality of Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986)
Hurka, Thomas's Perfectionism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993)
Sher, George, Beyond Neutrality (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
Wall, Steven, Liberalism, Perfectionism and Restraint (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998)
Friedman, Marilyn, “John Rawls and the Political Coercion of Unreasonable People,” in The Idea of Political Liberalism: Essays on Rawls, ed. Davion, Victoria and Wolf, Clark (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), 16
Greenawalt, Kent, Private Consciences and Public Reasons (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 84
Galston, William, “What Is Living and What Is Dead in Kant's Practical Philosophy?” in Kant and Political Philosophy: The Contemporary Legacy, ed. Beiner, Ronald and Booth, William James (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), 222
Larmore, Charles, “The Moral Basis of Political Liberalism,” 96 Journal of Philosophy (1999), 608
Nagel, Thomas, Equality and Partiality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 38
Macedo, Stephen, Diversity and Distrust: Civic Education in a Multicultural Democracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 188–211
Lister, Andrew, “Public Reason and Democracy,” 11 Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (2008), 285
Berlin, Isaiah, “The Pursuit of the Ideal,” in The Crooked Timber of Humanity (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1991), 13
Nagel, Thomas, “Rawls on Justice,” in Reading Rawls: Critical Studies on Rawls' A Theory of Justice, ed. Daniels, Norman (New York: Basic Books, 1989), 9
Dworkin, Gerald, The Theory and Practice of Autonomy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 9
Barry, Brian, Culture and Inequality (Cambridge University Press, 2001), 283
Barry, Brian, Culture and Equality: An Egalitarian Critique of Multiculturalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001)
Raz, Joseph, “Facing Epistemic Diversity: The Case of Epistemic Abstinence,” 19 Philosophy and Public Affairs (1990), 40
Young, Iris Marion, “Survey Article: Rawls's Political Liberalism,” 3 Journal of Political Philosophy (1995), 181–90
Griffin, Stephen M., “Political Philosophy versus Political Theory,” 69 Chicago-Kent Law Review (1994), 692
Downing, Lyle A. and Thigpen, Robert B., “Beyond Shared Understandings,” 14 Political Theory (1986), 451–2
Walzer, Michael, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality (New York: Basic Books, 1983)
Barber, Benjamin, The Conquest of Politics: Liberal Philosophy in Democratic Times (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988)
Honig, Bonnie, Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), 12
Wolin, Sheldon, “The Liberal/Democratic Divide: On Rawls's Political Liberalism,” review, 24 Political Theory (1996), 98
Cohen, Joshua, “A More Democratic Liberalism,” 92 Michigan Law Review (1994), 1503–47
Brettschneider, Corey, Democratic Rights: The Substance of Self-Government (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007)
Gutmann, Amy, “Rawls on the Relationship between Liberalism and Democracy,” in The Cambridge Companion to Rawls, ed. Freeman, Samuel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 174
Hampton, Jean, “Should Political Philosophy Be Done without Metaphysics?99 Ethics (1989), 806
Ceaser, James W., Liberal Democracy and Political Science (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990)
Gunnell, John G., Between Philosophy and Politics: The Alienation of Political Theory (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986)