Symposium on Gaus’s Public Reason Liberalism

The editors over at the Cato Unbound blog are hosting a symposium on Jerry Gaus’s version of public reason liberalism. Jerry provides a lead essay. Three commenters have response essays. Readers of the blog will know the first two commenters, philosophers Richard Arneson and Eric Mack. The third is Peter Boettke, an economist at George Mason University who blogs at Coordination Problem. All four pieces are thought-provoking and will be of great interest to Public Reason Blog readers. Jerry will add a concluding response essay in a few days. Cato Unbound welcomes discussions at other blogs, so if anyone wants to discuss some of the issued raised in the symposium on this blog, Cato Unbound will link to it.

Here are links to the main essays, with summaries included:

Jerry’s Essay: The Range of Justice (or, How to Retrieve Liberal Sectual Tolerance)

Summary: In his lead essay, Gerald Gaus argues that today’s political philosophy is a confused jumble of opposing factions with little prospect of consensus. He then proposes a way out of this “crisis of credibility”: We should recognize that there may be a range of institutions, each of which suffices to win our assent given the benefits that accrue from agreeing to any of them. Just as liberalism is a response to religious sectarianism, it can also be a response to philosophical sectarianism.

Dick Arneson’s Essay:  Toleration and Fundamentalism: Comments on Gaus

Summary: Richard Arneson rejects the analogy between religious and political toleration. In the latter, we are called to exercise reason, and we may well be justified in excluding from consideration those who hold unreasonable views. Indeed, given fully rational and fully informed interlocutors, agreement is inevitable, and there is no need for toleration at all. Gaus’s argument, while clever, is flawed. Arneson founds toleration on consequentialism: We tolerate even unreasonable beliefs because persecuting them has obviously bad results.

Eric Mack’s Essay: Peter Pan Strikes Back

Summary: Eric Mack argues that while classical liberalism seems to be a part of Gaus’s “range of justice,” its focus on prohibiting certain methods of attaining one’s goals will always render it unacceptable to some members of society. For all that, the prohibition of certain means, with very few restrictions on individuals’ chosen ends, makes the classical liberal position distinct from many other mere political sects. As a further problem, focusing on a range of justice whose member theories can potentially be found agreeable by free and equal moral persons may simply push the whole question back to a deeper level: Who then gets a place at the public reason table with the grownups? Are those agents who don’t come to the public reason table subject to any of the principles of justice?

Pete Boettke’s Essay: Living Better Together

Summary: Peter J. Boettke likens Gaus’s argument to the work of Friedrich Hayek and James Buchanan in political economy and public choice. He argues that property rights are integral to any generalized liberal system; without them, and without the means of increasing economic wealth through the market process, society will devolve into a fight over resources. Private property is thus a part of the basic framework of any liberal society.

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