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Volume 25 • Number 4

October 2011



 

 

Public Justification of What? Coercion vs. Decision as Competing Frames for the Basic Principle of Justificatory Liberalism


by Andrew Lister


Broadly speaking, the principle of public justifiability requires that the exercise of political power be justifiable to each and every person over whom that power is exercised. The idea of being justifiable to every person means being acceptable to any reasonable or otherwise qualified person (assuming he or she has had the chance to reflect and deliberate about the issue in question), without such persons having to give up the comprehensive religious or philosophical doctrine they reasonably espouse. Public justifiability thus involves a partly idealized unanimity requirement, or as I will say, a criterion of multi-perspectival acceptability. The demand for public justifiability can be specified in different ways, depending on what exactly has to be publicly justifiable, who is supposed to apply the principle, who counts as reasonable or otherwise qualified, and so on. One of these dimensions concerns the notion of acceptability. Should we care about acceptability to each reasonable perspective, based on all of the reasons that perspective accepts, or should we care about acceptability to all, based on only those reasons that all reasonable perspectives accept? This choice has been referred to by the distinction between "consensus" and "convergence." Sometimes people agree about practical conclusions but for different reasons, in which case their reasoning can be said to converge from different moral or philosophical starting points. Other times, people agree about their moral or philosophical starting points, but reach different practical conclusions, based on different beliefs about the factual context, different rankings of shared concerns, or different judgments about how to apply these concerns to specific situations


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ISSN: 2152-0542