Indexed on: 24 Mar '09Published on: 24 Mar '09Published in: Law and Philosophy
The idea of public reason is central to political liberalism’s aim to provide an account of the possibility of a just and stable democratic society comprised of free and equal citizens who nonetheless are deeply divided over fundamental values. This commitment to the idea of public reason reflects the normative core of political liberalism which is rooted in the principle of democratic legitimacy and the idea of reciprocity among citizens. Yet both critics and defenders of political liberalism disagree over whether or not the idea of public reason permits citizens to appeal to their comprehensive conceptions of the good in public deliberation over matters of basic justice. Our aim in this paper is to provide a defense of an exclusive idea of public reason, and at the same time we aim to dispel the underlying concerns of two prominent criticisms of the idea of public reason—the concern of alienation from the political process, as expressed by religiously oriented critics, and the concern over women’s equality, as expressed by feminist critics. We argue that inclusive accounts of the idea of public reason are not consistent with political liberalism’s core commitments. Further, we claim, inclusive accounts of the idea of public reason deepen feminist concerns. We think that, properly understood, an exclusive account of the idea of public reason can address feminist concerns about political liberalism and avoid alienating (reasonable) religious persons in an unacceptable way. Thus, we conclude that an exclusive account of the idea of public reason is our best hope for reconciliation.