Tag Archives: public justification

Vallier Reading Group: Chapter 4

Summary of chapter 4

The goal of chapters 3 and 4 is to explain that the “Public Justification Principle” (PJP) does not entail the ‘principle of restraint.’ This involves showing that there is no necessary relation between the PJP and an ‘accessibility’ or ‘shareability’ requirement on justificatory reasons. Chapter 3 identifies two desiderata for evaluating different conceptions of justificatory reasons: (1) respect for personal integrity, and (2) respect for the fact of reasonable pluralism. Chapter 4 argues that the convergence account of public reason, which does not include the principle of restraint, fulfills these desiderata more successfully than rival consensus accounts. read more...

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CFP: Rethinking Political Catholicism, Rome, May 22-23, 2014

Although the study of religion and politics has blossomed over the past decade, the normative debates over the appropriate place of religion in modern democracies often remain divorced from the study of the actual practices and meanings of religion in these democracies. Rethinking Political Catholicism aims to bridge this divide by focusing on the fertile case of political Catholicism in Italy. Empirically, the conference aims to take stock of political Catholicism in Italy today, compare it with Catholic and Muslim politics elsewhere, and use contemporary theoretical and normative insights to better understand its post-secular dynamics. Normatively, the conference aims to evaluate the practices of contemporary political Catholicism in Italy and elsewhere, and thus contribute to developing a more sophisticated debate about the proper roles of religious politics in contemporary democracies. read more...

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Thom Brooks, Punishment

Punishment is the most comprehensive monograph on the subject available. It is accessible for readers coming to the topic for the first time with new arguments and developments in each chapter that will be of interest to those already working in the field, including the defence of a new theory of punishment: the unified theory of punishment and its ideal of punitive restoration.

The blurb:Punishment is a topic of increasing importance for citizens and policy makers. Why should we punish criminals? Which theory of punishment is most compelling? Is the death penalty ever justified? These questions and many others are addressed in this highly engaging guide. Punishment is a critical introduction to the philosophy of punishment offering a new and refreshing approach that will benefit readers of all backgrounds and interests. This is the first critical guide to examine all leading contemporary theories of punishment, including the communicative theory of punishment, restorative justice, and the unified theory of punishment. There are also several case studies examined in detail including capital punishment, juvenile offending, and domestic abuse.
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OPR V.14 Part 2: Sincerity and Shared Reasons

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.

  1. A reasonably believes he is justified in endorsing X,
  2. A reasonably believes that B is justified in endorsing X (…)
  3. 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 ))

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OPR V.14 Modeling Public Justification

This post provides an overview of Section 14 and explains the relationship of this section with previous sections; I make some critical comments in separate posts linked below. I hope I haven’t gone overboard, in terms of the total length of the posts, but section 14 is important because it lays the groundwork for Jerry’s conception of public justification. At the same time, it is the conclusion of the previous 100 or so pages of argument about the moral emotions. So I want to summarize the main claims of section 14, but also explain how they follow from earlier sections. And of course I have some questions and criticisms.


Section 14 defines the “Basic Principle of Public Justification” (BPPJ) and lays out “the deliberative model” that specifies the principle. The BPPJ provides a necessary condition for a moral imperative to be authoritative. The assumption is that an imperative “?” is made in a particular context C based on a rule L. The condition is (1) that each normal moral agent has sufficient reasons to internalize L and hold that L requires ? in circumstances C, and (2) that moral agents do generally conform to L.

The BPPJ provides a rule-based standard for assessing particular moral demands in context, and so has as one of its components a criterion for determining when a rule counts as a bona fide moral rule; each and every normal moral agent must have sufficient reasons to internalize the rule. The idea of a normal moral agent (NMA) has figured in Gaus’s earlier discussions of moral psychology. A person is a moral agent if they have the capacity to understand and care about following social rules for its own sake; such an agent is normal if they have the cognitive capacities of a fully-functioning but still boundedly-rational human being. Thus some people do not qualify as NMAs, either due to lack of cognitive capacity (young children, severe mental disabilities) or lack of ability to internalize rules (young children, psychopaths). The reasons an NMA “has” are not the reasons there truly are, nor simply the reasons that agent thinks she has. On the one hand, Gaus argues that there is no point in saying that I “have” a reason if it is completely inaccessible to me, given my epistemic situation. On the other hand, he accepts that I have a reason not to cross the bridge in front of me even if I don’t think I have such a reason, if a reasonable amount of investigation and reflection would reveal the bridge to be unsafe (234-6). The reasons a NMA has are thus the reasons she would have if she engaged in a respectable amount of good reasoning based on what she currently believes (summarizing 250). ((For doubts about the idea that we have reasons that we would recognize if we deliberated more, see Alexander Moon’s comment to the previous installment of the discussion group))

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