On Political Legitimacy, Reasonableness, and Perfectionism

Public Reason 5 (1):58-74 (2013)
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Abstract

The paper advances a non-orthodox reading of political liberalism’s view of political legitimacy, the view of public political justification that comes with it, and the idea of the reasonable at the heart of these views. Political liberalism entails that full discursive standing should be accorded only to people who are reasonable in a substantive sense. As the paper argues, this renders political liberalism dogmatic and exclusivist at the level of arguments for or against normative theories of justice. Against that background, the paper considers aspects of a more plausible, deeper and more inclusive idea of public political justification that builds on a thinner, potentially cosmopolitan idea of the reasonable. The paper considers what content such an idea may have, and identifies a method of inclusive abstraction through which it may be enriched in content to render it fruitful for the purposes of a justification of principles of political justice. But the move toward more depth and inclusiveness faces constructivism with two challenges. First, inclusivism about the scope of political justification might not be able to avoid dogmatism unless it invokes perfectionist considerations. And second, the authority and appeal of a fruitfully rich idea of the reasonable depends on whether the addressees of political justification already value wide acceptability.

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Thomas M. Besch
Wuhan University

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