I summarized Section 14 in a previous post; here I raise some critical points about the question of whether public justifiability should include a shared reasons requirement, and how this relates to sincerity in public deliberation.
Gaus rejects the requirement that deliberators deliberate in terms of shared reasons. To be a bona fide moral rule, a rule must be endorsed by each and every member of the appropriately (i.e. partly) idealized public, each based on the total set of reasons he or she accepts. “Mutual intelligibility” requires only that these personal evaluative standards pass some threshold of plausibility such that they can be generally recognized as genuine moral perspectives. But members of the public will still think that many of the reasons their fellows appeal to are bad reasons. They also think that this use of bad reasons for the assessment of moral rules is appropriate. In intellectual argument each will criticize the other for accepting bad reasons, and argue that others ought to change their views. When it comes to determining what count as valid moral rules, however, everyone accepts that each will assess proposed rules based on his or her own evaluative standards, and that rules will count as valid only if they meet with the unanimous approval from these diverse perspectives.
An alternate view would be that deliberators accept that they are to deliberate only on the basis of the reasons they share. What is wrong with the shared reasons view? Gaus’s answer in Section 14.4 (d) comes in the form of a response to Jon Quong’s argument for the shared reasons view. ((Jonathan Quong, Liberalism Without Perfection, OUP 2010, Chapter 9 “The Scope and Structure of Public Reason”)) Quong’s argument is based on the requirement that public reasoning be sincere. I will explain the dispute, then briefly argue that the underlying issue isn’t really about sincerity.
Insincere deliberation may be justified in some circumstances, but it is pro tanto morally bad because it makes public reasoning into a form of manipulation. If I argue that your beliefs commit you to supporting a particular proposal even when I don’t think they do, then I am not respecting your capacity for rational moral agency; I am treating you as a thing to be moved, not a person to be reasoned with. Conversely, sincerity in public reasoning expresses respect, helping to sustain civic friendship. Quong formulates the idea of sincerity in public justification in terms of three conditions, involving persons A(lf) and B(etty) and a proposal X.
- A reasonably believes he is justified in endorsing X,
- A reasonably believes that B is justified in endorsing X (…)
- A may only… offer arguments in favour of X to B that he reasonably believes B would be justified in accepting. ((Gaus cites the first two of these conditions on 288. All my quotes from Quong are from Chapter 9 of from Liberalism Without Perfection ))
Quong argues that Gaus’s convergence conception of public justification violates this “principle of justificatory sincerity” (PJS). The example he uses to illustrate this fact involves a public of only two persons A and B and two reasons Ra and Rb and one policy X. The beliefs as follows:
- A believes Ra justifies X
- B believes Rb justifies X
- A does not believe Rb justifies X
- B does not believe Ra justifies X
In this situation, there are no shared reasons for X, but each member of the public (A and B) believes X to be justified. The problem is that A and B cannot endorse X without violating PJS, because each person must believe that the other is not justified in endorsing X. “If either person were to vote for or otherwise support X, he would be supporting the imposition of a political decision on his fellow citizen that he does not believe can be justified to that citizen” (Quong).
In response, Gaus accepts that public justification presupposes a principle of sincerity, but distinguishes different possible specifications of this principle. A must believe B would be justified to support X, but under what conditions, he asks: (1) that she correctly completed all relevant reasoning; (2) that she deliberated at the level expected by members of the public; (3) that she deliberated at this level and arrived at a basis for X that is at least minimally plausible to Alf as a moral basis (even if incorrect in his view), or (4) that she deliberated at this level and arrived at a basis for X that she thinks sufficient, even if Alf does not think it intelligible as a moral basis? Gaus argues for C as opposed to D.
My first comment about this debate is that the issue is not best framed as a debate about sincerity. If I argue that correctly understood the Catholic doctrine of chastity supports same-sex marriage without acknowledging that I think this doctrine false, that can be insincere, if I am dissimulating my own fundamental disagreement with Catholicism. However, reasoning from conjecture need not be insincere; I can say “I don’t believe this doctrine, but I can see that it is a serious moral point of view, and I think it does imply that we ought to accept same-sex marriage.” If I truly believe that the doctrine supports SSM, I am not being insincere. Of course, if I think that opposite-sex-only marriage is a grave enough injustice, I may think it justified to engage in insincere deliberation. If at some point of injustice resistance is justified, at some lesser point of injustice insincere rhetoric is justified. ((On these points, see “The Sincerity of Public Reason” forthcoming in the Journal of Political Philosophy and “On Reasoning from Conjecture” forthcoming in the Journal of Moral Philosophy, both by Micah Schwartzman, who I trust will correct me if I’m misrepresenting his views)) But the mere fact that I am reasoning about what would be true if your fundamental beliefs were true does not make my reasoning insincere. Nor does the fact that I don’t think your fundamental beliefs justified mean that I can’t think the proposal in question is justified to you. The idea of justification to… is relativized to the variety of reasonable moral perspectives. This is true even when reasoning from shared reasons, as public reasons will themselves be based at some level on underlying religious and philosophical views that are not shared(overlapping consensus).
In my view, the main issue between the shared reasons or consensus interpretation of public justification and and the total reasons or convergence interpretation is whether we frame the demand for public justification as a constraint on rules directly, with a default of not having a rule, or as a constraint on the reasons we appeal to in deciding what kinds of rules to have, with a default of exclusion from consideration. But this is jumping ahead a bit; we need to wait for Section 16’s discussion of the default and the eligible set of proposals.
My second comment about this debate is that there seems to be simple answer to Quong’s A and B example, from Gaus’s perspective. If A thinks that B truly does not have reasons for X and B thinks that A truly does not have reasons for X then X does not satisfy BPPJ. The fact that there is a convergence of actual views is not relevant because, as Gaus makes clear on 225-6, it is up to each of us ultimately to determine whether we think others have sufficient reasons for X.
It is odd, however, to think that both A and B want to follow X and think X justified, but also think themselves not permitted to follow X. Quong says that if Alf supports X, in this instance, he would be supporting the imposition of a political decision on Betty that he does not think can be justified to her. Gaus actually agrees, if Alf thinks that Betty’s only reason Rb does not support X. But is there still imposition, in this case? Alf has qualms about “imposing” a rule on Betty that Alf thinks Betty ought not endorse, given her beliefs. But Betty points out that there is no imposition, because she disagrees, and thinks the rule justified given her beliefs. I am tempted to say that the demand for public justifiability simply doesn’t apply, in this situation. If there is no disagreement and no conflict, there is no imposition, and so no need for a principle to determine when we can justify imposition.
The remarks above defuse Quong’s worry that the convergence view licenses insincerity, I think, but they do not address Gaus’s objection that the consensus or shared reasons view involves disrespect for persons as moral agents. I want to disagree about this as well. Gaus claims that objection to the shared reasons view is that Alf should not have a veto over the reasons Betty employs in her own evaluations.
“Shared Standards implies a strong right of Member of the Public Alf to veto the use of Betty’s ?B in her own deliberations about whether x is justified to her. If Alf does not endorse ?B, then he has a right to block Betty from employing it in her own deliberations. This surely is objectionable, even if he cedes a similar veto to her” (286).
Gaus returns to this point on p.290, asserting that any principle allowing some to veto the reasonable considerations of others manifests disrespect for them as fellow moral agents. The thought here, I think, is that I as a free and equal individual ought to be sovereign over my own judgment. Yet the shared reasons view seems to give others authority over my own deliberative process. I don’t find this argument persuasive. Neither Alf nor Betty has any veto or even any say over what others will think justified according to ?A or ?B. Each has the right to make up her own mind. The veto is only over inclusion in the set of grounds that we acknowledge as a valid basis for our common decisions about moral rules. Any view involving a unanimity requirement gives a veto of some kind to someone or indeed anyone, potentially; the only issue is what form this veto takes. According to the shared reasons view, any reasonable rejection of a reason disqualifies it as a basis for collective decision-making about social rules; according to Gaus’s preferred alternative, any reasonable rejection of a rule disqualifies it (though we have yet to learn exactly how the default or baseline is set). Which is more disrespectful of moral agents as free and equal; to give individual members of the public a veto over proposed rules, or to give them a veto over proposed reasons for decisions about rules? Gaus’s brief argument here against the shared reasons view has not resolved the issue.