Thanks to Andrew Lister for an admirably concise and rich review of the third chapter of my book. The main aim of Chapter 3 is to lay down the strategy for vindicating the convergence view. I argue that respect for integrity and reasonable pluralism are both foundational values in public reason liberalism, so foundational that they can be used to choose between conceptions or interpretation of the idea of public reason. I will argue that the convergence view is superior on both grounds to the mainstream consensus view in Chapter 4.
But Lister raises some important concerns about how that vindication is going to go.
I. Does Convergence Help or Hinder Religious Integrity?
Lister’s first worry is that by lifting the requirement of restraint from citizens, we reduce integrity violations caused by restraint but increase integrity violations prohibited by restraint. So citizens will be permitted to act on their diverse religious reasons, which could allow them to coerce others in integrity-violating ways:
Therefore lifting the public reason restriction would unburden conscience in one respect only to burden it another. Without public reason, there would be an integrity-gain in that I would be able to vote my religious convictions, but there would be an integrity-loss in that I would be subject to laws that express the religious convictions of others.
But as Lister notes, convergence does not allow the wholesale coercion of others based solely on religious reasons. Instead, despite permitting religious reasons to enter in the process of public justification, it allows secular or religious private reasons to defeat potentially oppressive and integrity-violating laws. Lister admits that on my convergence-moderate idealization view, religiously based coercion will be rare as the coercion must be unanimously endorsed by idealized members of the public and that is unlikely to happen in a sufficient diverse public.
Lister suggests that as a result the convergence view is only friendly to religion on certain political issues where religious citizens seek to reduce coercion, such as religious exemptions and school choice. But it will be much less friendly on “abortion, same-sex marriage, or euthanasia, where religious voices typically demand religiously-informed regulation of conduct.”
Now, the legal implications are largely as Lister outlines, though I think the case of abortion is more complicated. I speak to this below. But, yes, on euthanasia and same-sex marriage religiously-based coercion is hard to justify if not impossible (though on same-sex marriage, religious exemptions can be publicly justified). That will certainly make many people of faith unhappy.
But I fail to see how their integrity is violated by these legal policies. Restraint violates integrity by requiring people not to be true to their convictions or to violate their faith. The only way prohibiting or banning gay marriage or euthanasia could be construed as an integrity violation is if many religious people were committed to the view that their religion requires banning these practices in the democratic process. I submit that very few religious people think they have these duties, though some Muslims may prove a partial exception. There is a difference between politics compatible with one’s religion and policies required by said religion. I think religious people make this distinction all the time, and that my convergence view adequately represents the divide.
II. Convergence and Abortion
Convergence views on abortion are rather complicated, surprisingly. On my view, while coercive prohibition of abortion cannot be justified to some pregnant women (some might actually be pro-life, however), we may be able to publicly justify restrictions on others performing abortions in order to protect fetuses if we consider fetuses to be persons. This is because if fetuses are in fact persons, then they are arguably subjects of public justification. If so, pro-abortion legislation can’t be publicly justified to them. I think this might permit laws that would legally punish abortion providers.
So it seems to me how public reason sorts out abortion invariably depends on whether the unborn are persons. I’m not sure there’s a way to apply a public justification restraint that is neutral on the issue of fetal personhood.
And just to make this post more controversial, here’s one reason to think that political liberals might want to acknowledge fetal personhood: because they typically want to argue that we must publicly justify coercion to future generations, say by not destroying the planet that they will one day use. If the interests of non-existent people make them subjects of justification, the interests of potential people (fetuses) should make them subjects of justification as well, or so it seems to me.
III. The Point of Congruence
I want to avoid a conception of public reason that settles for conceiving of politics as a seeking an adequate balance of power, one that settles for a modus vivendi. I think that’s part of the ideal animating the public reason project. I propose that one could attempt to either minimize or eliminate conflicts between laws and personal integrity in order to move towards that ideal, but that we should not settle for minimization, but seek elimination instead.
Lister argues that “elimination is just a special case of minimization” which occurs when we can minimize to zero. So there’s no real distinction between the approaches. I think there’s a difference in what we strive for, about what our ideal aims at. If we settle for a small amount of incongruence, we’re not fully defending the ideal of public reason.
Lister also argues that my conception of a modus vivendi may seem too broad, as I understand a society as being rooted in a modus vivendi even if citizens take themselves to have reason to comply with the strictures of public reason, though not for their own moral reasons. That is, I say a modus vivendi obtains when everyone takes themselves to have reason to comply with the law when those reasons are not genuinely moral. We achieve congruence when each person can in some sense see the law as an expression of her moral values, and not just strategic bargains. So the ideal of public reason, on my view, aims at justifications that consist of moral reasons.
But how does any of this help us decide between conceptions of public justification?
My answer, in brief, is that by acknowledging a broader set of reasons as justificatory, a convergence view better approximates the ideal of congruence at the heart of public reason. Convergence allows people to accept and reject laws based on their full set of deliberative reasons, whereas consensus restricts them to a subset. So if our ideal is congruent justification, a convergently-based legal system promises to draw closer to the ideal.
So I first have to establish that congruence is the ideal (which I tried to do in Chapter 3), and then I suggest that convergence brings us closer to congruence that consensus views do (in Chapter 4), and that moderate idealization brings us closer to congruence than radical idealization does (in Chapter 5). So that’s how congruence is supposed to help.
But I thank Lister for pushing me to explain how congruence is supposed to do any work. I’ve actually been thinking about that a lot as of late, as I’m working on a paper sorting out what congruence really is and how it helps us to distinguish ideal public justifications from less than ideal public justifications. That stuff didn’t make it into the book.