Self-defeat, anarchy, unfair exclusion

I have a new paper forthcoming on public reason, in The Journal of Moral Philosophy. The paper ties together three objections that are central to David Enoch’s recent critique: that theories of public reason are self-defeating, that they lead to libertarianism / minimal-statism / anarchy, and that they unfairly exclude people deemed unreasonable.  Here is the abstract:

Theories of public reason are alleged to be self-defeating, to lead to anarchy, and to treat those classified as unreasonable with unequal respect, suggesting that public reason is incoherent rather than simply outweighed by competing considerations. To avoid anarchy and self-defeat, advocates of public reason can idealize heavily, adopting a strict standard of reasonableness. Yet the more they restrict the justificatory constituency, the more the resulting exclusion of putatively unreasonable views seems unfair. This paper shows how to avoid this dilemma. The paper focuses on David Enoch’s recent critique of public reason, which marshalls the worries about self-defeat, anarchy, and unfairness of exclusion to undermine the very idea of public reason. Although he doesn’t explicitly identify the dilemma sketched above, it is consistent with his view to recognize that the solution to the first two problems exacerbates the third. My suggestion about how to avoid the dilemma depends on a distinction between two models of public reason. The first frames the principle as a constraint on coercive state action, with a default of inaction; the second sees the principle as a constraint on reasons for decisions, with a default of exclusion from consideration. The coercion model is vulnerable to the worry about anarchy but not self-defeat, I argue, the reasons model to the worry about self-defeat but not anarchy. The coercion model does not apply to itself, and so cannot be self-defeating, and there are plausible ways of avoiding anarchy without idealizing heavily. As a result, this model is less vulnerable to the charge of unfair exclusion. The reasons for decisions model is not subject to the anarchy objection, but does apply to itself. The only way to avoid self-defeat is to idealize heavily, making the reasons model is thus particularly susceptible to the worry about unfair exclusion. My response is to appeal to reciprocity, in order to justify making acceptance of public reason one of the conditions of reasonableness. Those who exclude everyone but themselves from the constituency of justification can’t object that others draw the boundaries of this constituency too narrowly, since they themselves draw its boundaries more narrowly still.

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