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Tag Archives: consensus
I disagree with a good deal in Chapter 7 of Kevin’s book. In fact, I am extremely sympathetic with the overall project of de-privatizing religious reasons: like Kevin I want a liberalism, and more importantly a polity, in which faith traditions engage and are engaged, in politics on a basis of mutual respect. So the disagreement came as a relief, because there is nothing worse than being assigned commentary on something you agree with. Tthe kind of schooling system I would like to see is considerably different both from the one he rejects and the one he defends in very brief sketch form. This has the inconvenient consequence that engaging and explaining every disagreement would take many more pages than a blog post bears; the reader will be relieved that I am restricting myself to a couple of thousand words, and am willing to take the risk of being misunderstood (and to subject Kevin to that risk – so, if something I attribute to him seems in any way wrong, please assume the error is mine not his!!).
American public schooling is currently arranged roughly as follows: every child is required to have some formal schooling up to age 16 or 18 (depending on the state), and common schools which purportedly promote a common civic identity are provided free at the point of delivery.  Parents can legally refrain from sending their children to such schools, and send them, instead, to private schools which are very lightly regulated, and are permitted to foster sectarian identities (in practice the vast majority of children in private schools attend religious schools); they can also provide homeschooling which is, in most states, even more lightly regulated than private schooling.
Something like this system is widely defended by the ‘consensus’ liberals that Kevin takes as his opponents. Liberalism should, as Macedo puts it, embrace “the positive constitutional project of shaping diversity to the end of a shared public life” and should use the schooling system to this end, actively sculpting citizens to have certain liberal values once they reach adulthood. For these liberals, this end overrides religious considerations; the schools must not invoke or teach religious doctrines, because to do so would conflict with the driving purpose of civic education; and they should foster a civic identity that, once instilled, will override religious reasons when citizens are engaged in public debate and political action. More importantly, it requires that children be exposed to a diversity of views about what is of value in the world and how to live their lives – views and approaches that some parents may wish to ensure that their children not be exposed to. Freedom must have its due, of course, so homeschooling and private schooling are permitted; indeed, by permitting them we relieve potential pressure on the public schools which sectarian religious parents would exert, and free them up to do their work relatively unfettered by sectarian lobbyists.
Kevin offers an alternative. The current structure of schooling (in the US) should be rejected, and replaced with some sort of privatized school choice system. He does not object to government funding of schools, but he does object to the government using schools to foster the kind of civic identity that consensus liberals seek, and thinks it is unfair that parents with private identities that are nicely congruent with the kind of civic identity consensus liberals promote get schooling for their children free at the point of delivery, whereas citizens with religious identities have to pay twice, as it were, once for the public schools their children don’t attend, and again for the private schools they do attend.
Why? First, the kind of convergence liberalism he endorses (the right kind of liberalism) does not require the kind of civic identity promoted by consensus liberals. Rather citizens are free to follow their private, including religious, reasons when contributing to public debate and political decision-making and, in fact, they have no obligation to engage in politics at all. Second, though, he reminds us that citizens find tremendous value in raising children: “If we recognize the obvious fact that citizens’ reasons of integrity often involve raising children, then it is easy to see how citizens could have defeaters for state intervention in child development. Consensus liberals emphasize the state’s interest in sculpting children in its image, but on the convergence view shared civic ends are more easily undermined by intelligible defeaters”.
Kevin looks at the debate over whether Intelligent Design should be taught in schools. Whereas, as he observes, it might be possible to forge some sort of compromise between proponents and opponents of ID so that ID and evolution both get taught, there are a host of other issues, such as sex education, and religious education over which there will be dispute; and once all these issues are added up, there will be no sensible in-school compromise with which most people can live; the sensible measure will be to implement a privatized (though maybe publicly funded) choice system.
Final call for papers: Deliberation after consensus – Democracy, epistemic quality and public discourse
Workshop, Paris, 20-21 November 2014.
Keynote speakers: Simone Chambers and Jürg Steiner.
We invite paper proposals on four topics:
1. What is the role of consensus in deliberative democratic theory?
2. How does agreement affect the quality of subsequent deliberation?
3. How to measure deliberative rationality and epistemic quality?
4. What is the relationship between expert discourse, democratic deliberation and epistemic quality in political processes?
Paper proposal deadline: September 1, 2014.
Where required, we’ll cover travel and accommodation expenses for paper givers.
Further info is to be found here:
We’re inviting abstracts for a workshop on deliberative democracy to be held in Paris, France, 20–21 November 2014. Keynote speakers are Simone Chambers and Jürg Steiner.
We welcome contributions from scholars in political science, philosophy, law, media and communication, and related disciplines on any of the following topics:
- What is the role of consensus in deliberative democratic theory?
- How does agreement affect the quality of subsequent deliberation?
- How to measure deliberative rationality and epistemic quality?
- What is the relationship between expert discourse, democratic deliberation and epistemic quality in political processes?
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 ))