Author Archives: Micah Schwartzman

Vallier Reading Group: Chapter 1

I am happy to begin our reading group on Kevin Vallier’s new book, Liberal Politics and Public Faith: Beyond Separation. My thanks to Chad Van Schoelandt for organizing. In earlier reading groups, we have followed a standard format of summarizing a chapter and then raising some questions about it. In this post, I focus on Chapter 1, Public Reason Liberalism: Religion’s Child and King.


The liberal tradition is often accused of hostility toward religion. Because liberalism places constraints on the role of religious commitments in politics, it may seem to have a “secularist bias.” In this chapter, Vallier seeks to defend liberalism against this charge, or at least against the claim that liberalism is motivated by such bias or hostility. Vallier claims that liberalism has a “schizophrenic attitude” toward religion: on one hand, promoting religious liberty and diversity, but on the other, constraining the influence of religion in the political domain. But this attitude does not reflect hostility so much as a good faith effort to balance religious freedom with the demand for a legitimate and stable public authority. To develop this claim, this chapter describes the “source, ground, and structure of public reason liberalism” (10) and, by extension, the liberal tradition more generally. read more...

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OPR V.16 Evaluating Proposals and the Problem of Indeterminacy

After specifying formal constraints on proposals (V.15), this section focuses on how to evaluate them, especially under conditions of indeterminacy. As with the previous section, I provide a summary of the major arguments and then raise some preliminary questions. I should note that, in various places, I have tried to simplify technical aspects of Gaus’s discussion.


This section begins with the problem of how to rank qualified proposals offered by Members of the Public (MoPs) in the Deliberative Model. One option would be to consider all proposals simultaneously, but Gaus rejects this possibility as unrealistic given our cognitive limitations. He argues instead for pairwise comparisons of proposals to construct ordinal rankings that satisfy modest conditions of social choice, including “asymmetry of preferences, symmetry of indifference, reflexivity of preference, and transitivity of strict preference” (305).

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OPR V.15 Proposals

This post provides a summary of Section V.15 and then raises some preliminary questions.


In the last section (V.14), Gaus advanced the Basic Principle of Public Justification and developed a Deliberative Model for determining whether social morality satisfies that principle. Andrew Lister summarized the parameters of the model here. Most of section V.15 is devoted to specifying the model further by constraining the set of rules that may qualify as proposals within it.

Before discussing particular contraints, however, Gaus describes the Deliberative Model as reflecting the Kantian idea of “legislation in the realm of ends” (292). Every person represented in the model is both subject to the law and the legislator of it. But, as Gaus notes, this is a fairly sophisticated idea. What if normal moral agents (NMAs) can’t understand or appreciate it? We can’t expect most people to grasp the complex philosophical arguments offered for reasoning from within the Deliberative Model. As Gaus says, not everyone is a stage 6 Kohlbergian reasoner. The question, then, is how to develop the Deliberative Model so that justifications for proposed rules of social morality (or “proposals”) are accessible to all NMAs. The answer is that the model itself need not be accessible to all NMAs; only the reasons offered for proposals must be accessible (and acceptable) to them. You don’t have to be able to read (or understand) the Order of Public Reason to have sufficient reasons for endorsing rules of social morality, but you do have to be able to understand the reasons that justify those rules.

Having addressed this concern about the accessibility of the Deliberative Model, Gaus next specifies and defends a number of formal constraints that qualify proposals as moral rules, rather than rules of some other kind. These constraints are as follows:

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Brettschneider Reading Group, Chapter 1

Welcome to the first installment of our reading group on Corey Brettschneider’s Democratic Rights: The Substance of Self-Government. This post will focus on Chapter 1, The Value Theory of Democracy.


This chapter begins by describing the view, commonly held among liberal theorists, that there is a conflict between democracy and individual rights. On this view, democracy is defined by a set of political procedures, whereas rights are substantive, or “procedure-independent,” constraints on the outcomes of those procedures. This view leads to the following puzzle in democratic theory:  If democratic procedures confer legitimacy on their outcomes – because the people who are subject to those outcomes have also authorized them – then how can those outcomes be limited by a set of procedure-independent, or substantive, rights? This is what Brettschneider calls the “problem of constraint” (8).

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Reading Group on Corey Brettschneider’s Democratic Rights

Starting on Monday, we will be hosting a virtual reading group on Corey Brettschneider’s book, Democratic Rights: The Substance of Self-Government. Following the model of the Estlund reading group, we will be reading one chapter each week. Someone will post a brief summary of the chapter, along with a few questions or comments to help start discussion. Corey has agreed to participate, and we hope you will join us. The schedule for the reading group is included below the fold. [Corey’s responses for each chapter discussion are linked in parentheses.]

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Estlund Reading Group Chapter 3

Here is the third installment of our reading group on Democratic Authority, which focuses on chapter 3, “An Acceptability Requirement.”


This chapter begins by restating the problem of the book, which is: Why not epistocracy? We know from the previous chapter that Estlund denies the Authority Tenet, which says that those with political wisdom are warranted in ruling over those without it. The problem with the Authority Tenet is that it rests on an illicit inference from expertise to authority, which Estlund calls the expert/boss fallacy. But what exactly makes this inference illicit? Why aren’t experts entitled to be bosses?

To answer this question, this chapter introduces and defends a family of principles, called acceptability requirements, which are meant to block the expert/boss inference and thereby defeat the case for epistocracy. The argument of the chapter proceeds in two main parts: the first defends the idea of an acceptability requirement against the twin objections of over- and under-inclusiveness; the second part argues that an acceptability requirement must appeal to the truth, which provides a basis for responding to the claim (advanced most forcefully by Raz) that “epistemic abstinence” renders incoherent political liberalism and other theories that make political recommendations on the basis of something other than the truth.

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