It goes without saying that O’Neill’s argument, on behalf of Kant, carries weight with readers and enjoys an intuitive plausibility. If persons seek deep justification and contingent, environmental factors impede deep justification, then persons do well to exclude appeal to contingent, environmental factors in whatever form, be they persons, thoughts or knowledge claims. That said, a faultline runs through the argumentation above and comes out in several places.
As one example, consider in what sense contingent, environmental factors “impede” deep justification. Does O’Neill mean to say that such factors merely hinder deep justification or block it all together? In other words, do such factors prevent persons differing in contingent, environmental factors from arriving at deep justification more easily or at all? If O’Neill does not specify which of the two senses her usage has, her wording strongly implies that she favors the second of the two options. Indeed, this vacillation would seem to increase the initial plausibility which her retelling of Kant enjoys.
Secondly, one may suspect that the last passage’s tone shifts from descriptive registers to prescriptive registers. It remains to be seen whether this is done so justifiably. Certainly, the author has argued persuasively for a particular set of conditions which obtain between persons of differing standpoints in an uncoordinated situation. From this initial description of the way things are in such a case, it is reasonable to expect O’Neill to advance a view of how persons so situated should adapt themselves to said situation. What results is, however, less conclusive than the author would seem to suggest insofar as both a weak and a strong prescriptive follow from the conditions so described: weakly, one may either not appeal to considerations deriving from contingent, environmental factors or, strongly, one may exclude appeal thereto.
For certain readers, the two prescriptives may seem identical, for all relevant purposes. After all, if one does not appeal to something, one effectively excludes appeal thereto. Yet the two are distinct in the sense that, when one does not appeal to something, one retains the ability to appeal thereto. On the contrary, when one excludes appeal to something, one ipso facto loses the ability to appeal thereto. In the former, one may recognize that such appeals are arbitrary and unlikely to, even incapable of, achieve deep justification while still allowing that they may have a place in the broader justificatory process. In the latter, one recognizes that all such appeals are arbitrary and discounts their possible contribution to the broader justificatory process.
For her part, O’Neill advances the strong without giving due consideration to the weak. One might even so far as to maintain that, in her account, O’Neill occludes the second in favor of the theoretically simpler response and thereby reifies a sound practical consideration into a conceptually pure requirement of practical reason. In the way of illustration, we might cite the fact that the theoretically simpler position implies that contingent, environmental factors freely examined, chosen and affirmed cannot constitute objective thoughts or knowledge claims. This holds even on the supposition that their proponents have stepped back from their own standpoints, under ideal circumstances and with an open mind, to consider all other possible standpoints, find other standpoints wanting for justifiable reasons, and so affirm their standpoints. If we are inclined to view this supposition charitably, there is good reason to suspect that contingent, environmental factors can, under the right circumstances, constitute objective thoughts and knowledge claims. (Stout’s notion of “epistemic responsibility” captures a good deal of the intuitions and arguments voiced here. Suffice it to say, O’Neill would reject Stout’s notion outright or, at least, limit epistemic responsibility to the reliability shown by those who consistently back thoughts and knowledge claims by reasons followable by all.)
As a third and final instance, O’Neill’s account of Kant’s requirements for practical reason puts forward a plausible picture of the human mind which may hold not up as well on closer examination: the human mind can either follow or not follow, adopt or not adopt, apply or not apply the reasons for a thought or knowledge claim. More specifically, the author sketches a picture in which a person possesses a kind of on/off function. Either the person’s understanding is “on” and so able to follow a given reason or the person’s understanding is “off” and so unable to follow a given reason. Thus, the picture surreptitiously introduces the law of excluded middle into its picture of human understanding: between comprehension and incomprehension, there is neither intermediate state nor movement.
This questionably static view of human understanding bolsters an overly rigid theory of standpoints and reason. For O’Neill’s Kantian account suggests that, while persons can be brought to understand thoughts and knowledge claims which they have reason to consider arbitrary, the fact that they must be brought to understand due to the arbitrary quality excludes others’ efforts to bring the former to understand. In some sense, the account offered seems to consider as overly demanding on persons the mere exercise of their reason and the pressure exerted on their standpoints. This stands contrary to certain everyday experiences and intuitions which show that standpoints can expand or contract in response to argumentation and persuasion. In a word, thoughts and knowledge claims can become followable in a way that the author’s view would disallow.
All in all, these considerations serve to qualify the intuition which O’Neill’s reading of Kant trades on, namely, that, when faced with diversity of opinion, the surest way forward lies in casting off thoughts and knowledge claims and reasons therefor which possess qualities unlikely to warrant assent from others. Indeed, this intuition becomes radicalized on the present reading, setting out an ideal which suggests a dim view of human capacity for reasoning, justification and understanding as well as for the possibilities for human interaction. This qualification proves all the more important in that standard public reason accounts arise precisely therefrom. If Kant and O’Neill are right to impose limits, and significant ones at that, on what we can reasonably expect from discourse, their proposal nonetheless sets the bar at once too high and too low.
This passage is notably dense in logical connections, numerous terms of which are drawn from the preceding paragraphs as well, such that new terms are introduced to serve alongside or in place of older terms. All the same, it remains possible to sum up the key steps here. Unreasonable procedures set up or draw on an insider/outsider distinction: their norms, reasons, claims, authorities, etc. posit in and of themselves a group to whom they are, by definition, not norms, etc.. Accordingly, reasonable procedures cannot set up or draw on such a distinction, and any procedure which seemingly operates in view of such a distinction must be able to explain it away as only an apparent distinction. In short, Kant and O’Neill seek a procedure which is all inside but no outside or, alternatively, which dissolves the inside/outside dichotomy.
Certainly, this follows straightforwardly from O’Neill’s talk of unrestricted and common reasons. A procedure free of such a dichotomy is unrestricted and common in the relevant sense. Yet it may be worth wondering whether the universal law formulation of the CI does not itself constitute a restriction and reintroduce at least a measure of insider/outsider distinction. O’Neill may contend with Kant that the CI models our moral thinking and provides via the various formulations of the CI a manner of bringing the CI procedure and everyday moral intuition closer to one another. This may not, however, entirely eliminate that doubt so long as a person perceives that formulation as being foreign in an important sense.
More important is the way in which the passage defines a sense of arbitrary and, by extension, objectivity. Arbitrary are thoughts and knowledge claims held on the basis of reasons which owe to contingent, environmental factors. Conversely, objective are thoughts and knowledge claims held on the basis of reasons which owe to factors independent of the contingent environment and freely chosen and freely affirmed. Note that this implies, not uncontroversially, that contingent, environmental factors freely chosen and affirmed cannot constitute objective thoughts or knowledge claims, a point which O’Neill brings out in the following passage:
In a world of differing beings, reasoning is not complete, or we may say (and Kant said) not completely public when it rests on appeals to properties or beliefs, attitudes and desires, norms and commitments which are simply arbitrary from some points of view. In some contexts incompletely reasoned, hence partly arbitrary, stretches of thought are enough to the purposes at hand – but not always. When we seek deep justification that reaches others who are not already like-minded, we can be satisfied only with claims about what to believe and what to do which (we responsibly judge) can be followed by those others. The only strategy that can count as a reason for all is that of rejecting all arbitrary assumptions however respectable, well-trusted or widely accepted they or their proponents may be (idem.).
We will attempt to break this final passage down further before drawing conclusions:
1.) Persons differ in terms of contingent, environmental factors and hold thoughts and knowledge claims in relation thereto through appeal to properties, beliefs, attitudes, desires, norms and commitments.
2.) Reasoning or advancing thoughts and knowledge claims through appeal to properties, beliefs, attitudes, desires, norms and commitments in relation to contingent, environmental factors is incomplete, incompletely public or incompletely reasoned.
3.) Between persons who differ in terms of contingent, environmental factors, thoughts and knowledge claims advanced through appeal to properties, beliefs, attitudes, desires, norms and commitments in relation to contingent, environmental factors are incompletely public and appear incompletely reasoned and arbitrary from their standpoint.
3a.) Conversely, between persons who resemble one another in terms of contingent, environmental factors, thoughts and knowledge claims advanced through appeal to properties, beliefs, attitudes, desires, norms and commitments in relation to contingent, environmental factors appear public, reasoned and nonarbitrary relative to their standpoint.
3b.) Certain stretches of reasoning take place between persons who resemble one another in terms of contingent, environmental factors, for which thoughts and knowledge claims advanced through appeal to properties, beliefs, attitudes, desires, norms and commitments in relation to contingent, environmental factors then suffice.
4.) Persons may seek deep justification, i.e. justification that holds for a full stretch of reasoning on a given matter.
4a.) Persons seeking deep justification may find themselves in uncoordinated situations where persons who differ in terms of contingent, environmental factors advance thoughts and knowledge claims.
4b.) Such persons cannot find deep justification via thoughts and knowledge claims advanced through appeal to properties, beliefs, attitudes, desires, norms and commitments in relation to contingent, environmental factors (from 3.).
5.) Persons differing in terms of contingent, environmental factors seek deep justification.
5a.) Deep justification cannot obtain through appeal to properties, beliefs, attitudes, desires, norms and commitments in relation to contingent, environmental factors.
5b.) Persons differing in terms of contingent, environmental factors and seeking deep justification (more weakly) do not appeal to or (more strongly) exclude appeal to properties, beliefs, attitudes, desires, norms and commitments in relation to contingent, environmental factors.
6.) Persons and thoughts and knowledge claims advanced through appeal to properties, beliefs, attitudes, desires, norms and commitments in relation to contingent, environmental factors may be respectable, well-trusted or widely accepted.
6a.) An uncoordinated situation seeking deep justification may bring such persons and thoughts and knowledge claims together.
6b.) An uncoordinated situation seeking deep justification discounts respectable, well-trusted or widely accepted persons and thoughts and knowledge claims advanced through appeal to properties, beliefs, attitudes, desires, norms and commitments in relation to contingent, environmental factors.
Next, O’Neill lays out in what way such requirements constrain practical reason and authority and sketch the principles of reason for Kant:
This limited discipline of rejecting ways of thinking and acting that cannot be followed by differing others is surprisingly constraining. If thoughts and knowledge claims are to be seen as reasoned, they must at least be followable in thought by others who hold differing views: they must be intelligible to those others. If principles of action are to be offered as reasons for action to others with differing ethical and religious commitments, they must at least be principles that could be adopted by those others and used to organise their action. Agents who accept the ‘supreme principle of practical reason’ accept that they should adopt basic principles which, they take it, can also be adopted by others who may differ: in short they must accept the principle expressed in the formula of universal law formulation of the CI [categorical imperative] (idem.).
As above, analysis in terms of premises and conclusions allows us to see more clearly the argument’s underlying threads:
1.) Rational agents want thoughts and knowledge claims to be seen as reasoned.
2.) Reasoned thoughts and knowledge claims must be followable in thought by others, i.e. intelligible to others holding different views.
3.) Rational agents want thoughts and knowledge claims to be followable in thought by others, i.e. intelligible to others holding different views.
4.) Rational agents want thoughts and knowledge claims to be followable in thought by others, i.e. intelligible to others holding different views.
5.) Thoughts and knowledge claims followable in thought by others, i.e. intelligible to others holding different views are thoughts and knowledge claims that could be adopted by others and used to organise their action.
6.) Rational agents want thoughts and knowledge claims that could be adopted by others and used to organise their action. [= the supreme principle of practical reason]
7.) Rational agents want thoughts and knowledge claims that could be adopted by others and used to organise their action. [= the supreme principle of practical reason]
8.) The principle expressed in the formula of universal law formulation of the CI [categorical imperative] allows for thoughts and knowledge claims that could be adopted by others and used to organise their action. [= the supreme principle of practical reason]
9.) Rational agents want the principle expressed in the formula of universal law formulation of the CI [categorical imperative].
Certainly, the third set of premises and conclusion could go differently, depending on which principle one puts forward as meeting the requirements of “followable” and its various contents. The categorical imperative merely represents Kant’s own answer thereto; O’Neill develops her own response in Towards justice and virtue. Yet the conceptual heavy lifting is done in the first two sets. Therein, the author develops on Kant’s behalf in what way reasoned views are ones which others can adopt and use to organise their action.
Given the synonymy between followable and intelligible, reasoned and adoptable, it comes as no surprise that a view either followable and intelligible, reasoned and adoptable or it is not. Again, a view does not or cannot become followable and intelligible, reasoned and adoptable. In other words, others must be able to adopt the view in question; O’Neill does not consider whether they could come to or could be brought to adopt the view in question. In short, there exists for Kant and O’Neill a gap between principles which are reasoned and unreasoned, capable of being understood immediately and capable of being understood with effort.
In the following passage, O’Neill develops the implications of such considerations and arrives at a view of the problem through the lens of the “outsider”:
These considerations suggest why we should view the CI as stating a fundamental requirement of practical reason. They have various corollaries. If the discipline of reason requires the rejection of principles which (we take it) not all others can understand or adopt, or view as providing reasons, then any reasonable procedures must be in principle followable by all without restriction. Reason cannot therefore be anchored either in the norms of communities (as communitarians suppose) or in the overlapping consensus of citizens as an ethically diverse polity (as Rawls supposes): it must be accessible in principle even to others with differing norms and differing citizenship: to ‘outsiders’. ‘Outsiders’ would legitimately view any claim that principles of reason are to be identified with the specific beliefs or norms of groups from which they are excluded as fetishising some arbitrary claim […] Ways of organising thinking and acting that appeal to such spurious ‘authorities’ – whether the edicts of Church and State, of public opinion or local powers, or the public culture of a particular democratic society – are not ways of reasoning: they are simply arbitrary for foreigners, dissidents, the excluded, and other outsiders. By contrast, where all such ‘authorities’ are put in question, nobody will be told that some claim that they cannot but view as arbitrary constitutes a reason for them to believe or act (p. 359).
In this case, the underlying claims do not allow themselves to be grouped in the form of premise-premise-conclusion, so we will content ourselves with laying out the various claims below in order to see what may be understood thereby.
1.) Above considerations (presumably 3.) “followable in thought by others” and 6.) “could be adopted by others and used to organise their action”) pick out the CI as a requirement of reason as well as corollaries.
2.) The requirements of practical reason define reasonable procedures.
3.) Reasonable procedures involve thoughts and knowledge claims for which the principles and reasons are followable and applicable by others.
3a.) Conversely, unreasonable procedures involve thoughts and knowledge claims for which the principles and reasons are restricted to some rather than all.
4.) Practical reason, as embodied in reasonable and unreasonable procedures, advances in view of certain norms.
5.) Reasonable procedures advance in view of norms the precise terms of which are followable and applicable by others.
5a.) Conversely, unreasonable procedures advance in view of norms the precise terms of which are followable and applicable by some rather than all.
6.) Communities and societies may engage in procedures of which the norms are followable and applicable only by members of a specific community.
6a.) Hence, communities and societies may not engage in reasonable procedures as per the requirements of reason.
7.) Reasonable procedures advance on terms followable and applicable by others with differing norms, citizenship or communal ties, i.e. “outsiders”.
7a.) Hence, reasonable procedures advance on terms which do not presuppose a thoroughgoing insider/outsider distinction.
8.) A procedure which restricts principles of reason as those norms, beliefs, etc. of a specific community or society treats others as “outsiders”.
9.) A procedure which define “outsiders” holds up an arbitrary claim as constitutive of practical reason.
9a.) Hence, reasonable procedures do not hold up arbitrary claims as constitutive of practical reasons (from 7a. and 9.).
10.) A procedure which appeals to an authority holding up arbitrary claims as constitutive of practical reason appeals to an unreasonable authority.
10a.) Conversely, a procedure which appeals to no such authority appeals to a reasonable authority.
11.) Arbitrary claims or authorities make up unreasonable procedures which do not provide reasons for others.
What principles of human practical reason, if any, are susceptible of justification if “there is no independent order of reason which lays down a common plan or procedure that constitutes the principles(s) of practical reasoning”? Such is the question by which Onora O’Neill opens the fourth section of her essay “Constructivism in Kant and Rawls” in The Cambridge Companion to Rawls (p. 357). Understanding her response thereto will prove vital not merely for understanding Kant and Rawls but also for Stout’s challenge to these thinkers.
The question’s urgency arises from the supposition that, without some requirements for reason, there can be no means of determining what constitutes a good, binding or authoritative reason among a plurality of uncoordinated agents. Yet, on O’Neill’s reading, Kant sees in this “uncoordination”, for lack of a better term, the beginnings of certain requirements for practical reason:
[T]he very predicament of a plurality of uncoordinated agents is all we can presuppose in trying to identify principles of practical reason: it is because reason’s authority is not given that it must be instituted or constituted – constructed – by human agents. Consider the predicament of human agents more closely. They cannot take any particular faith or belief, tradition or norm, claim or proposition, in short any arbitrary measure, as having the sort of unrestricted authority which would entitle them to view it as a principle of reason. Yet they need, if they are to organise their thinking and doing together, to find – to construct – some common authority. If they cannot, they will not be in the business of giving and receiving, exchanging and evaluating each other’s claims about knowledge and action (p. 358).
This passage is dense in both content and logical connections, so it will prove useful to break down the individual steps in reasoning which lead Kant and O’Neill to their shared conclusion:
1.) A particular faith, belief, tradition, norm, claim, or proposition is an arbitrary measure.
2.) Arbitrary measures do not have unrestricted authority (or universal scope among all rational agents).
3.) A particular faith, belief, tradition, norm, claim, or proposition does not have unrestricted authority (or universal scope among all rational agents).
4.) Uncoordinated agents need to organise their thinking and doing together, i.e. give, receive, exchange and evaluate each others’s claims about knowledge and action.
5.) Organising thinking and doing together requires a common (or shared) authority.
6.) Uncoordinated agents need a common (or shared) authority.
7.) A particular faith, belief, tradition, norm, claim, or proposition does not have unrestricted authority (or universal scope among all rational agents).
8.) Uncoordinated agents need a common (or shared) authority.
9.) A particular faith, belief, tradition, norm, claim, or proposition does not or cannot constitute a common (or shared) authority for uncoordinated agents.
It should be noted that the three deductions appear valid in their form. Indeed, the first two follow straightforwardly in both form and content. In the third, the attempt to synthesise the first two conclusions may, however, give one pause at the level of the content. For O’Neill implies that unrestricted authority and common authority are one and the same. At first glance, this enjoys a certain plausibility. If something is unrestricted, it knows no bounds and is open to all. Likewise, if something is common, it is shared and available to all.
That being said, one may wonder whether there are not things which are, on one hand, common but restricted and, on the other, unrestricted but “uncommon”. More precisely, a piece of information may be unrestricted to all without it thereby being common to all in actuality. One may nonetheless be able to contend that it remains potentially common, i.e. accessible given the right kinds of circumstances. Yet this may reintroduce a measure of restriction therein. For the moment, we will leave our line of questioning there.
Notably, concluding to 9.) does nothing to remove the uncoordinated agents from a situation of uncoordination, so it is necessary to pursue the question, as Kant and O’Neill do, at the practical level of what agents may do from there. O’Neill continues from the above:
How are they to do this? Since all that they have in common is their lack of a given ‘plan of reason’, all that they can do is to refuse to treat any of the various faiths and beliefs, traditions and norms, claims and propositions they variously adhere to as having an unrestricted authority for organising thinking and doing. However, those who do not regard any specific faith or beliefs, tradition or norms, claims or propositions as having an unrestricted authority for organising thinking and doing in effect adopt the overarching principle of thinking and acting only on principles which they regard as open to, and followable by, all (idem.).
Again, it will be helpful to break down the reasoning into distinct steps:
1.) Uncoordinated agents have and adhere to their own plans of reason, e.g. a particular faith, belief, tradition, norm, claim, or proposition or collection thereof.
2.) A particular faith, belief, tradition, norm, claim, or proposition or collection thereof does not or cannot constitute a common (or shared) authority for uncoordinated agents.
3.) Uncoordinated agents cannot adhere to their own plans of reason to constitute a common (or shared) authority.
4.) Uncoordinated agents cannot adhere to their own plans of reason to constitute a common (or shared) authority.
5.) Uncoordinated agents must adhere to some plan of reason to constitute a common (or shared) authority.
6.) Uncoordinated agents must adhere to some plan of reason distinct from their own plans of reason in order to constitute a common (or shared) authority.
7.) Uncoordinated agents must adhere to some plan of reason distinct from their own plans of reason in order to constitute a common (or shared) authority.
8.) A plan of reason distinct from particular plans of reason allows only principles open to and followable by others.
9.) Uncoordinated agents must adhere to some plan of reason which allows only principles open to and followable by others.
As above, the premises and conclusions seem to interlock rather straightforwardly. Upon closer inspection, one may nonetheless detect something on the order of a missing premise: a plan of reason is either particular or common, and there is no movement between these categories. Put somewhat differently, a plan of reason is or is not unrestricted, is or is not common, but does not become unrestricted, does not become common. It is worth asking why the authority of a plan of reason is taken as singular and unchanging, monolithic and immutable. So seen, authority may aspire to a level of certainty which one would do well to question further (as does Stout with the criterion of scientia or certainty) by asking whether Kant and O’Neill do not pose a false alternative.
G. and I had reached the end of our self-guided tour through the City Chambers and, in due time, found our way back to the entry hall. Again outside, we decided to backtrack across George Square to step inside a high-end whisky purveyor’s, mostly out of curiosity, for even those bottles not housed in glass-fronted cabinets quickly surpassed our budgets. Still, we made the rounds and affected aristocratic airs despite our modest dress and inwardly resolved to save our meagre means for elsewhere.
We exited onto Queen Street. Though we were slowly progressing towards a given point in the city, we had decided to leave the path to chance and ourselves free to pursue anything of interest. A long look up and down Queen Street’s length revealed just such a thing of interest, an apt description given our initial inability to make sense of the sight. Naturally, we decided to approach in the hope that greater proximity would allow for greater understanding. What so puzzled us was an equestrian statue before a Neoclassical building, neither of which presented much puzzlement in themselves. After all, the building sported the motifs typical of its style, rectilinear lines, triangular fronton and Corinthian columns, while the bronze statue depicted uniformed man and horse, albeit with the latter planted firmly on four hooves and looking unusually alert.
No, our puzzlement owed to the placement of an orange traffic cone atop the statue’s head, which slipped to one side and so presented a jaunty angle to onlookers. As no passers-by seemed particularly put-off by the sight and no police presence was visible either in the form of officers or barriers, we could only conclude that the cone then occupied its usual place. The picture only became clearer for us upon circling to the statue’s front where the name WELLINGTON stood out from the plinth, a name which explained much of the phenomenon even without our knowing the details. As we crossed to the east pavement on Queen Street and continued in that direction, G. and I had a good laugh over the Glaswegian’s good-natured way of thumbing their nose at English hegemony. However often authorities removed the cone, one could rest assured that another would appear in its place.
If, to this point, I have said little of my travel companion, it is more through neglect than lack of interest. Though we were somewhat separated in age, we had begun seeing more of one another outside of the university where I worked and he studied, be it in pubs, the streets or, somewhat later, our homes, and had come to bond over whisky. Out of that bond, a real human contact had grown, strange though it might seem. To outside eyes, this might prove all the stranger in that I had met him on the ascendant as he came out an alcoholic phase, as he termed it. Wellington now forgotten, our talk could resume its ranging from absurdity to imaginings, from pleasantries to discussion of very real relationships. Indeed, our walks that day broadened the range beyond anything which we had theretofore broached when we happened upon the topic of religion and belief, later in our wanderings. Regardless, it was safe to say that I sensed in him a manner of growing into his humanity and that fragility which comes with it in a way different from though not unlike that which I underwent myself.
If I take stock of these facts now, it follows from the relative lack of stops between the gallery and our midmorning destination. The street’s slope increased as we drew nearer the hill at the city’s historic center. To the left rose several university buildings from which students emerged at first in a trickle and then in an ever-growing flood of coats, limbs and voices. On our right, we found a series of office buildings, of which the lowermost windows stood either at eye-level with us or just below that, such that we could look in on individual and shared offices alike, their inhabitants pecking at keyboards or shuffling papers or hefting empty mugs, each employee as doleful as the last.
Street and slope evened out, and we knew ourselves at our destination: Cathedral Square and St. Mungo’s.
Rough marble mouth burbling, he intimated that he was born in neither the right place nor to the right people for that sort of thing which she spoke of, to which his friend intimated in turn that few and far between were those who were.
5.) Repainting a government building:
How would one go about justifying repainting a government building in the different forums alluded to above, i.e. a.) – c.)? It should not go without mentioning that this is likely to be among the most trivial of political justifications of some import to the public.
a.) Between government officials, justification will almost certainly proceed on the basis of practical or functional reasons. Perhaps, the paint is chipping or the color out of keeping with the times or other government buildings. Perhaps the choice of color or the lack of upkeep is sending the wrong message to citizens about their government. In the first case, officials appeal to practical (or even aesthetic) concerns to justify the repainting. In the latter, officials put forward functional or symbolic reasons for the repainting, i.e. “what function does the government occupy in the lives of citizens if governmental offices appear as they do?”. In both cases, between themselves, government officials seem to do well enough without recourse to moral reasons in this case.
b.) Between government officials and citizens, similar reasons would seem to hold regardless of the group occupying the role of deliberating party or audience. After all, citizens may prove just as likely to evoke the practical or functional aspects as government officials. That said, there may still be need for moral premises of a more limited kind when the time comes to pass to action. For, as always, there is the question of justifying the action to those who are opposed. Indeed, citizens or government officials alike could take issue with the expenditure, the contractor hired or, conceivably, even the choice of color. So long as there exists plausible opposition of one kind or another, the justifying party, be they official or citizen, will need to show that the action proposed is a legitimate coercive use of collective force and resources.
c.) Between citizens, the same observations are likely to hold. Again assuming reciprocity or symmetry of reasons, citizens offering practical or functional reasons to other citizens are likely to receive practical or functional reasons in response, be they in agreement or disagreement. Given the proposal’s seemingly innocuous character, citizens could likely remain at that level in order to justify their reasons for proposing such an action. Yet, when the time comes for acting, citizens are likely to encounter the same question of permissibility seen in b) so long as other citizens are in a position to voice opposition of one kind or another to the project.
What can we take from the examples of 1.) institutionalizing freedom of speech, 2.) promoting tax reform, 3.) creating a new government agency, 4.) setting up a neighborhood compost and 5.) proposing to repaint a government building, all collected and discussed above? How do our findings relate to the question from which we set out: Can there be a political justification for a policy which is at the same time not a moral justification?
It seems that the question does not admit of a straight yes/no answer in that different parties occupy different roles within the justificatory process at different times. For cases 2.) through 5.), the a.) instance between government officials seemed prima facie capable of an amoral justification, leaving aside where the impetus for the proposed actions arise from. The b.) instance would, however, seem to suggest in the same cases that moral premises and hence moral justification, or at least consideration thereof, will at some point enter into the deliberation in a.). For government officials must be ready, at least to some extent, to explain their decisions and actions to a potential audience of citizens. For questions of basic structure or nonessentials, as in 1.) through 3.) this clearly calls for the use of recognizably moral principles.
Yet careful consideration of the cases 4.) and 5.) would also suggest that no question so innocuous that it does not raise the issue of permissibility at some level. Put differently, if it does not prove necessary to show the permissibility of a project at the time of its proposal, it will be necessary when the time comes for decision, implementation or action. All of which seems to suggest that all political justifications are at least minimally moral in this sense. A simplified version of political justification to someone might in this case read: providing the audience sufficient reasons why a given proposal is a morally permissible use of collective will and coercive force (and not an instance of duress). Only in this way might one hope to show why a given public or government action is not arbitrary in the way that an action exercised in the condition of anarchy might prove.