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Reconceiving Public Reason: Neutrality, Civility, and the Self-Defeat Objection
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Theology, Department of Theology.
2024 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

How should we live together? The question is at the heart of social ethics and it is an as urgent political question as ever. In this thesis, one particularly attractive reply to this central issue is analysed—John Rawls’s theory of public reason, and three different objections that have been put against it. Rawls’s theory is an approach to democratic decision-making. According to it, the exercise of political power should be neutral. Secondly, the exercise of political power should restrict the reasons that have justificatory force in political decision-making procedures to reasons that do not rely on any particular worldview. Finally, the exercise of political power is legitimate only if it is in accordance with terms of cooperation that all reasonable and rational persons can accept.

The objections each target one of these components. Cécile Laborde has challenged the conception of neutrality espoused by egalitarian liberals generally. Egalitarian liberal understandings of neutrality do not take sufficient account of all relevant dimensions of our worldviews and often confuse neutral policies with what conforms to the status quo. Jeffrey Stout, in turn, targets the constraints on public discourse and argues that imposing such constraints is unfair to religious citizens because it distributes the burdens of cooperation to their disadvantage. Finally, Steven Wall argues that the requirement that the legitimate exercise of political power be acceptable to citizens ends up defeating itself.

These arguments are tested and I consider the alternative approaches that are presented by each of the three critics. I propose that neutrality should be rejected, as equality better captures the end pursued by demanding neutral treatment of different worldviews. I then go on to revise the constraints that Rawls impose. Although many of Stout’s arguments are persuasive, Rawls’s constraints on political discourse are introduced for very good reasons. Finally, I argue that Wall’s self-defeat argument fails and that Rawls’s principle of legitimacy need not be revised, but is defendable in its current form. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2024. , p. 209
Series
Uppsala Studies in Social Ethics, ISSN 0346-6507 ; 54
Keywords [en]
John Rawls, Jeffrey Stout, Cécile Laborde, Steven Wall, public reason, social cooperation, neutrality, civility, political legitimacy
National Category
Ethics
Research subject
Ethics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-522751ISBN: 978-91-513-2036-6 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-522751DiVA, id: diva2:1836272
Public defence
2024-04-05, Geijersalen, sal 6-1023, Thunbergvägen 3P, Uppsala, 10:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2024-03-13 Created: 2024-02-08 Last updated: 2024-04-09

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