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Answering objections to “The Real Problem with Rawlsian Reasonableness” 4

June 21, 2019

3.4. Estlund’s insularity requirement
Moving to the fourth objection, Estlund (2008) takes the opposite tack to Quong’s internal conception approach by requiring that the general acceptability criterion (of which Rawls’s reasonableness requirement is a particular instance) apply to itself and not be self-excluding (53). Despite this divergence, he comes to largely the same conclusion as Quong: the justificatory pool must be insular, i.e. the pool’s members must accept all other members and only those members as having rejection privileges. Because the members may not set the terms for qualification, “one feature that a person must have in order to count as qualified is to accept the acceptance criterion including its correct account of qualified people” (Estlund 2008: 61). If it cannot be shown either that members may set the terms for qualification or that members cannot apply the terms consistently or that the terms must be acceptable to other perspectives other than those of the members, then Estlund’s objection cannot be met.
In more detail, Estlund’s case for the insularity requirement begins with the “acceptance necessary” doctrine: “No doctrine is admissible as a premise in any stage of political justification unless it is acceptable to a certain range of (real or hypothetical) citizens, C, and no one else’s acceptance is required” (53). He goes on to state that C is to be identified with reasonable or qualified citizens, however one specifies that qualification, and that doctrine AN, no less than other doctrines, must be acceptable to all qualified citizens (54). Since each member of C only accepts the doctrine on the condition that acceptance by all and only members of C is necessary for AN’s admissibility, this generates an insularity requirement: “Each member of C must recognize the rejection rights of all and only the members of C” (55). To the question whether there is likely to be “qualified disagreement about who is qualified”, due to the members’ “wide variety of points of view” (60), Estlund answers that the general acceptability criterion is not subject to qualified disagreement and, consequently, self-excluding because a person is “disqualified if he does not accept the correct acceptance criterion” (61). Finally, the language of qualification is to be preferred over that of reasonableness as “we cannot learn everything we need to know about [the term of art “reasonableness”] by reflecting on the meaning of the word reasonable, or by studying the people we might ordinarily call reasonable” (idem.). This last remark seconds the equivocation defense inspired by Freeman (2004).
I stated above that there are three angles of attack on Estlund’s insularity requirement: i.) members of the justificatory pool may set the terms for qualification; ii.) members cannot apply the terms consistently; iii.) the terms must be acceptable to other perspectives other than those of the members. In what follows, I contend that the last two angles may be fruitfully exploited against Estlund. Regarding the first of these, it should be recalled that my argument from the burdens was structured to show that, in the course of modulating exercises of theoretical and practical reason in accord with the burdens, a person might have reason to apply the burdens to (A1), the first basic aspect of reasonableness. If I have done my job well, this means that members of the justificatory pool may not always be able to apply those terms consistently.
Yet this alone does not suffice to meet Estlund’s objection from the insularity requirement. After all, it hinges on the possibility that (A1) and (A2) come apart and may seem question-begging by presupposing my argument’s conclusion. This is where the second of the last two angles comes in: the terms must be acceptable to other perspectives other than those of the members. Here, I draw on the point developed against Quong above: there is a problem with the fit between Estlund’s justificatory pool and Rawls’s justificatory pool (even if this is no argument in itself against his broader conception of the general acceptability criterion). It may be that the former includes only the members of C, but the latter configures C in a different way. As I argued above, Rawls’s justificatory pool includes not just the citizens of a well-ordered society but also “you and me”, i.e. the moralized perspective of a person working out a public political conception of justice and living in a liberal democracy with an advanced economy. Accordingly, the general acceptability criterion, as it applies to Rawls, is subject to qualified acceptance by a further perspective than that of citizens in the well-ordered society, and Estlund’s insularity requirement does not answer the argument being advanced here.

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