‘Public Reason’ and Moral Debate

John Finnis

in Reason in Action

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199580057
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191729379 | DOI:
‘Public Reason’ and Moral Debate

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This chapter provides a close study and critique of Rawls's conception of public reason. ‘Public reason’ can summarily convey four sound elements of classical political thought as found in Aquinas, but as used by Rawls it is confused, arbitrary, and unreasonably restrictive of both discourse and deliberation. A fundamental confusion between the normative and the predictive-descriptive is revealed by its equivocal phrase ‘can reasonably be expected to endorse’. In so far as Political Liberalism rests on A Theory of Justice it suffers from the earlier book's unreasonable assumption of ignorance of value and consequently fallacious fundamental argumentation from what would be chosen or rejected in the ‘Original Position’. The concern to avoid bias and violations of the Golden Rule is sound, as is the principle of reciprocity. But Rawls's application of the principle in relation to unborn persons, like his follower Jeffrey Reiman's more radical application and the doctrine in Roe v Wade, exalts private power over public reason. An endnote lists uses of the phrase from Milton and Hobbes to Rousseau and Jefferson.

Keywords: Rawls; political liberalism; Jeffrey Reiman; reciprocity; Original Position; abortion; Roe v Wade

Chapter.  11237 words. 

Subjects: Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law

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