OPR attempts to show how moral authority can is possible despite disagreement among free and equal persons about the nature of morality. To do so, we must determine what moral authority is and the challenges it raises.
Section 2 might be read as an explanation of the various notions of freedom at work in the book. The first idea that Gaus analyzes is the “presumptive” or “natural” freedom in the state of nature. On this “negative” conception of freedom, X is free when X is free from requirements to comply with the judgments of others about morality. Notice that this is not freedom from morality but freedom that obtains when one is free from the others’ varying interpretations of morality.
Gaus ties his conception of freedom to the Kantian notion of autonomy and to what Susan Wolf calls Kant’s “Reason View” where one is autonomous when she has the option to act in accord with reason. For Gaus, “a free moral person is one who acts according to her own reasoning about the demands of morality.” (15).
A justified moral order rejects the claims of natural or self-appointed authority of some over others. When citizens make unjustified demands, those that do not appeal to the reason of citizens, they are “authoritarian”. (16). For Gaus, authoritarianism is the original sin of political philosophy. The authoritarian is not only morally suspect but fails to establish authoritative claims over her compatriots, since she appeals only to her own reasons, not to others’. For Gaus, for John to treat Reba as a free and equal moral person means that he must “acknowledge a fundamental constraint on the justification of claims to moral authority over her.” (17). The political philosopher must dispel the suspicion that morality is a form of illegitimate social control to explain how such moral authority can be justified.
Gaus next introduces a contrast between two conceptions of free and equal moral persons and their connection to social morality. Gaus ascribes to prominent Kantians Tim Scanlon and Stephen Darwall what he calls the “Expansive View” where we recognize others as free and equal means by “act[ing] toward others according to principles they could not reasonably reject.” Gaus takes Darwall and Scanlon to hold that “recognizing others as free and equal immediately implies [emphasis mine] a formula for what actions are morally permissible.” Yet the Expansive View is unattractive because it loads too much of the content of morality into a conceptual claim about the nature of recognizing others as free and equal. The Expansive View is therefore too controversial to form the foundation of a justification for social morality under conditions of reasonable pluralism.
The “Restrictive View” is an alternative to the Expansive View. It holds that moral personhood “consists in the capacity to care for moral rules in such a way that one recognizes a compelling reason to abide by the rule even when such conformity does not promote one’s wants, ends, or goals.” (19). Gaus believe that he can demonstrate that the Restrictive View is an implicit part of our social practices and so is presupposed by participation in any extended system of social cooperation. Notice that Gaus endorses the Expansive View (p. 20) but that he thinks it is vital to publicly justify the Expansive View in light of the Restrictive View.
Gaus introduces two puzzles about morality authority in Section 2.3. The ideas of freedom from judgment, natural moral personhood and equality among persons raise the Puzzle of the Assertion of Authority over an Equal. The puzzle concerns not speech acts but “claims to authority over another.” The puzzle is this: How can moral equals show that they have the authority to demand that others conform to certain social rules? The second puzzle is the Puzzle of Mutual Authority which arises because all persons have the ability to acquire authority over each other despite their equality. Gaus thinks that Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Kant all thought the puzzles could be solved. On their view, authority among equals must be possible in order to resolve conflicts of private judgment.
In 2.4, Gaus draws a distinction between the ways that Hobbes and Locke and then Rousseau and Kant conceived of the problem of the social contract. Hobbes and Locke thought that the clash of private judgment must be resolved by a political arbitrator. Private judgment must be suspended to establish a public morality of public reason. Gaus sees the Lockean and Hobbesian solution to the problem of moral disagreement as inherently political. His complaint is that they thereby excessively politicize the resolution of disagreement. In other words, Hobbes and Locke are too statist in comparison with Rousseau and Kant. This is a very unusual sense of “statist” but I think it is very deep and profound. If moral disagreement can be resolved extra-politically, there is much less for politics to do. Further, morality can actually restrain politics despite not being understood in natural law/natural rights terms. This form of anti-statism will form the groundwork for Gaus’s neoclassical liberalism (my term) developed towards the end of the book. Plus, notice that Gaus claims (ft. 48) that his view in Justificatory Liberalism was too Lockean in the sense described above. In this little footnote, Gaus explains his philosophical development between Justificatory Liberalism and OPR. Justificatory Liberalism was too statist because it was insufficiently Rousseauian. Weird, no?
Rousseau is the hero of OPR for he was the first to understand how the two puzzles of moral authority among equals could be resolved. Rousseau saw that a citizen could serve two simultaneous roles in a polity: sovereign and subject. Thus, the citizen can self-legislate morality, that is, she imposes morality (qua sovereign) only on herself (qua subject). Thus, when equals make justified demands of one another, they only demand that each other live up to their own self-imposed demands. For Rousseau, Kant and Gaus, as opposed to Locke and Hobbes, public judgment does not preempt private judgment. Instead, private judgment is harmonized with public judgment through the process of public justification.
Private judgment is harmonized with public judgment when the Deliberative Public Justification Principle is satisfied (p. 27). DPJP:
L is a bona fide rule of social morality only if each and every Member of the Public endorses L as binding (and so to be internalized).
When DPJP is satisfied “private reason and public reason are … harmonized” because all citizens self-legislate the social-moral rules required to cooperate with one another in a social order.
The DPJP needs more explanation, however. Members of the Public (MoPs) are idealized versions of actual citizens. So notice that Gaus has an account of idealization somewhat like other public reason liberals. However, Gaus’s conception of idealization is distinct because it is formulated by reflecting on the reasonable values and aims of actual citizens. Thus idealization is built directly out of our account of citizens’ reasons, not through abstractions generated out of our common considered judgments, a la Rawls. In my opinion, by adopting this conception of idealization, Gaus generates a liberalism that permits citizens’ private, sectarian reasons to become part of the normative support of social morality. This version of liberalism thereby entirely obviates one traditional communitarian criticism of liberalism: that it tries to formulate a public morality independently of citizens’ conceptions of the good.
Gaus’s conception of public reason also relies on his notion of social morality and social-moral rules. They’re explicitly mentioned in the DPJP and so public reason extends into morality itself. Gaus rejects Rawlsian Political Liberalism because he thinks public reason must go beyond the political.
Also notice that Gaus claims that social morality can have authority even when no one is making actual demands. We can often merely “remind each other of the relevant moral requirements.” Public justification in this way can obtain independently of the process by which public justification occurs. The relations of public justification are often implicit, internalized and non-deliberative. In this way, Gausian public reason is somewhat divorced from actual deliberative processes. We will revisit this theme later in the book.
Significantly, Gaus has embraced the traditional notion of positive liberty. Many people bowdlerize and oversimplify this notion, but not Gaus. Gaus’s conception of positive liberty is the Reason View of Kantian Autonomy: people are free when they act on their best understanding of their reasons. But also notice that Gaus’s notion of freedom from judgment is a kind of freedom from the interference that moral judgments entail. So Gaus utilizes a notion of negative liberty as well. Gaus has moved beyond debates about whether positive or negative liberty is the preferred conception of freedom. Instead, the interesting problem for Gaus is to show how positive and negative freedom combine.
Gaus grapples with Isaiah Berlin’s classic worries about positive freedom, i.e., that it can lead to totalitarianism. Positive liberty theorists recognize that “not every action a person chooses is a true expression of her overall aims and values” (33) and affirm that others can often understand your reasons better than you do. But the problem with Berlin’s critique of positive liberty views is that Berlin fails to distinguish “freedom qua acting in accordance with reason from freedom qua acting on one’s reasons.” Gaus appeals to no lofty ideal of Reason-with-a-capital-R. Instead, Gaus will attempt to rebut Berlin’s concern by appealing to a particular conception of the Reasons One Has (Sec. 13). For Gaus, making justified moral demands of one another is only to demand that she “live up to her own values” and that in doing so we do not disrespect one another but instead leaves them positively free.
There is an enormous amount going on in this section. Section 2 explains the Gausian conceptions of:
(1) Moral Authority
(3) Negative Freedom
(4) Moral Personhood
(7) Positive Freedom
(8) Public Justification
If you did not find something to quibble with in Section 2, you’re not paying attention. While Gaus analyzes eight traditional political concepts, he does so in distinctive ways, ways that you probably disagree with. I found summarizing this section complicated enough that starting to issue my own criticisms would make for too long of a post. I will leave it to you to raise your own questions and criticisms.