On Actualist and Fundamental Public Justification in Political Liberalism

Philosophia 48 (5):1777-1799 (2020)
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Public justification in political liberalism is often conceptualized in light of Rawls’s view of its role in a hypothetical well-ordered society as an ideal or idealizing form of justification that applies a putatively reasonable conception of political justice to political matters. But Rawls implicates a different idea of public justification in his doctrine of general reflective equilibrium. The paper engages this second, more fundamental idea. Public justification in this second sense is actualist and fundamental. It is actualist in that it fully enfranchises actual reasonable citizens. It is fundamental in that political liberalism qualifies conceptions of political justice as reasonable to begin with only if they can be accepted coherently by actual reasonable citizens. Together, these features invite the long-standing concern that actualist political liberalism is objectionably exclusionary. I argue that the exclusion objection, while plausible, is more problematic in own right than it seems if actualist and fundamental public justification hypotheticalizes and discursive respect is compatible with substantive discursive inequality. This leaves proponents and critics of political liberalism with deeper questions about the nature of permissible discursive inequality in public justification.

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Thomas M. Besch
Wuhan University


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