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Rawls and public reason IV

November 17, 2016

3.) the outside group’s advocacy for a public office candidate

Much the same kind of question as for the public office candidate could be posed here for the outside group and its advocacy therefor: namely, “can the outside group give nonpublic reasons on nonessential matters?”. That said, an additional complication emerges here. For outside groups most often endorse the public office candidate’s positions as a whole rather than endorsing one or the other of her positions. Should the public office candidate offer nonpublic reasons on nonessential matters but public reasons on the essentials (or any combination thereof), must the outside group endorse instead a candidate who frames her positions solely in public reasons? Indeed, this question will come back insofar as it remains to be seen to what extent a general political position or citizen can be compartmentalized and subcompartmentalized between public and nonpublic, essential and nonessential.

4.) the citizen’s election vote on questions of constitutional essentials.

Again, much the same considerations apply here as in the case above. If the vote takes the form of a referendum or a vote for candidates to a body bearing directly on constitutional essentials, then the case seems clear-cut, for Rawls: the citizen must decide whether to vote one way or another, for one candidate or another on the basis of public reasons. Certainly, the question of whether the citizen standpoint is conceptually empty for the person will arise: “can one vote on the basis of nonpublic reasons if one lacks public reasons?”. Likewise, the question of translating those reasons again makes an appearance.

One will, however, leave these questions aside in order to cast a broader net. If the form of an election is such that public office candidates must always exercise some decision as regards essential matters in addition to their positions on the nonessential, an ordering question arises for the person voting. Does the person voting decide her vote on the basis of the candidate’s public reasons for the essentials, nonpublic reasons for the nonessentials or some combination thereof? For, if considerations of constitutional essentials always outweigh considerations of nonessential matters and a vote involves both, then the person’s vote on both essential and nonessential matters may always be decided in favor of the former. This would effectively amount to extending public reason indefinitely, to the exclusion of nonpublic reasons. All of which again raises the question of the utility of such a distinction, if public reason ends up subordinating the political wholesale.

It may also be worthwhile to recall at this time one consideration motivating Rawls’ requirement for public reasons at the time of the vote. Should a citizen express public reasons for a vote on constitutional essentials yet vote on the basis of nonpublic reasons, this amounts to hypocrisy in that the person votes on the basis of a reason different from that which she expresses in the public forum. If a worry over hypocrisy weighs so heavily in favor of applying one and the same reason before the public and at the time of the vote, then one may wonder why Rawls does not allow the person in the citizen standpoint to express her nonpublic reasons for essential questions. Indeed, the criterion of sincerity or, more weakly, non-hypocrisy, seems to provide a compelling case for honestly exposing and acting on her real reasons in all contexts, be it in discourse or by vote.

(Naturally, this leaves aside the question of whether that leaves the person free to express different nonpublic reasons to different audiences, on the basis of their cognitive context and conceptual economy, so as better to secure a consensus by tailoring reasons to the listeners. Expressing different reasons to different audiences could conceivably be seen as a mark of hypocrisy insofar as the strict correlation between reason in discourse and reason in vote is violated, but a prominent Rawls critic, Jeffrey Stout envisages precisely this kind of open-ended reasongiving. Does Stout manage to sidestep charges of hypocrisy? This would seem to turn on a relation of conceptual proximity between discourse-reason and vote-reason.)

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