Why Public Reasoning Involves Ideal Theorizing

In Political Utopias: Contemporary Debates. New York, USA: pp. 73-93 (2017)
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Some theorists—including Elizabeth Anderson, Gerald Gaus, and Amartya Sen—endorse versions of 'public reason' as the appropriate way to justify political decisions while rejecting 'ideal theory'. This chapter proposes that these ideas are not easily separated. The idea of public reason expresses a form of mutual 'civic' respect for citizens. Public reason justifications for political proposals are addressed to citizens who would find acceptable those justifications, and consequently would comply freely with those proposals should they become law. Hence public reasoning involves 'local ideal theorizing': the justification of political proposals includes their consideration and evaluation under conditions of compliance with them by the citizens to whom those justifications are addressed. Local ideal theorizing, moreover, can lead to 'full ideal theorizing', wherein citizens outline and evaluate an amended version of their society’s 'basic structure'. This argument is illustrated by some recent empirical work on inequality within the United States.
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