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Rawls and public reason VIII

November 25, 2016

To the reasons above, one could conceivably add a further consideration along epistemological lines: namely, one may doubt whether the reasonable, so conceived, allows one to bracket outside considerations which one may otherwise consider necessary for justification, be it descriptive or normative. As opposed to the criticisms above, this line of questioning meets with more considerable obstacles in that Rawls espouses no particular epistemological doctrine. That said, the broad outlines of such a position can be traced, but this will come at a later time.

The reasonable and the rational having been treated, that leaves the term of civility mentioned above, and on which Rawls has more to say in the following passage:

Beyond this, the political values realized by a well-ordered constitutional regime are very great values and not easily overridden and the ideals they express are not to be lightly abandoned. Thus, when the political conception is supported by an overlapping consensus of reasonable comprehensive doctrines, the paradox of public reason disappears. The union of the duty of civility with the great values of the political yields the ideal of citizens governing themselves in ways that each thinks the others might reasonably be expected to accept; and this ideal in turn is supported by the comprehensive doctrines reasonable persons affirm. Citizens affirm the ideal of public reason, not as a result of political compromise, as in a modus vivendi, but from within their own reasonable doctrines (218).

The duty of civility seems here intimately bound up with a further basic idea of Rawls’, that of overlapping consensus of reasonable comprehensive doctrines, as well as with the three stages of justification, to which we have already alluded. It may be helpful at this time to recall the basic features of overlapping consensus as well as the three stages which complete it:

In such a consensus, the reasonable doctrines endorse the political conception, each from its own point of view. Social unity is based on a consensus on the political conception; and stability is possible when the doctrines making up the consensus are affirmed by society’s politically active citizens and the requirements of justice are not too much in conflict with citizens’ essential interests as formed and encouraged by their social arrangements (134).

In a word, people deliberating in accord with the original position will arrive at a certain political conception, which will 1.) be subjected to deliberation by the person from the citizen standpoint and, hence, on the basis of public reasons alone. Then, 2.) the person shall further deliberate thereon but this time from the individual standpoint and on the basis of her doctrine’s nonpublic reasons, i.e. from its own cognitive context and with its own conceptual economy. If she assents to the political conception on the basis of her nonpublic doctrine, the political conception is both publically and nonpublically justified for that person, wherefore the first of two overlaps in the consensus. The second of these overlaps comes when 3.) each person makes known to all others that she assents to the political conception for reasons both public and nonpublic, without specifying the content of those nonpublic reasons. These three stages represent the three stages of justification, each with its proper economy and standpoint (see 386-7).

It can now be made clear in just what way these ideas intersect with the duty of civility. Recall that the author describes this duty as follows:

[T]he duty of civility — to be able to explain to one another on those fundamental questions how the principles and policies they advocate and vote for can be supported by the political values of public reason. This duty also involves a willingness to listen to others and a fairmindedness in deciding when accommodations to their views should reasonably be made.

So conceived, civility concerns stages 1.) and 3.). In 1.), the person should give political reasons for the political questions which arise from the political conception and the basic structure under deliberation because others can engage those reasons and questions without disadvantage. Providing them such reasons shows respect or civility. So do the willingness to hear them out and the fairmindedness to make concessions with regards to their own political reasons and questions, presumably in both 1.) and 3.) That said, it remains unclear whether stage 3.) introduces any new reasons into the process of justification for which the person would have to make further allowances of civility.

Regardless, Rawls finds that the idea of overlapping consensus, with the three stages of justification, joined with the duty of civility allows one to dissolve the apparent paradox plaguing the idea of public reason and this on two counts. On one hand, the persons making up society agree on a conception of justice as much for nonpublic reasons as public reasons, thereby removing objections of artificial constraint. On the other, the duty of civility works to establish a public culture of reasongiving in which both public and nonpublic reasons have their place, thereby sidestepping claims of isolated political enclaves. Their combination enables Rawls to maintain that the idea of public reason can be the subject of a genuine moral consensus and hence avoids charges as to its status as mere modus vivendi.

Further attention will soon be paid to the moral quality of this consensus, as well as the value of public reason.

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