Public Justification and the Reactive Attitudes

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 17 (1):97-113 (2018)
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A distinctive position in contemporary political philosophy is occupied by those who defend the principle of public justification. This principle states that the moral or political rules that govern our common life must be in some sense justifiable to all reasonable citizens. In this article, I evaluate Gerald Gaus’s defence of this principle, which holds that it is presupposed by our moral reactive attitudes of resentment and indignation. He argues, echoing P.F. Strawson in ‘Freedom and Resentment’, that these attitudes are so deep a part of us that we are unable to rationally reject them. I examine and reject this defence of the principle. Considering the nature of our commitment to the moral reactive attitudes, I argue that those attitudes need not be grounded in a commitment to public justification. The availability of alternative grounds for these attitudes shows, contra Gaus, that we can rationally reject the principle of public justification while maintaining a wholehearted commitment to the reactive attitudes.
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First archival date: 2018-10-15
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