Natural Law and Public Reason

In Robert P. George and Christopher Wolfe (eds.), Natural Law and Public Reason (Georgetown University Press, 2000), with Christopher Wolfe.

Stephen Macedo, in his Liberal Virtues and in a number of separately published articles, has defended a liberal doctrine of public reason, one which he considers to be in line with John Rawls’s conception. According to Macedo, liberalism asks us to consider principles of justice from an Impartial point of view, one capable of discerning reasons that should he acceptable to everyone concerned, at least insofar as they are being reasonable. This requires reasoned arguments that are (1) publicly stated, (2) openly debated, and (3) widely accepted. The requirement of public justification demands that we filter out reasons and arguments whose grounds are (1) private, (2) too complex to be widely understood, and (3) otherwise incapable of being widely appreciated by reasonable people.

The conditions or grounds of public justification are three. First, there is the fact of reasonable pluralism: people typically and “reasonably” disagree on important issues, largely as a result of what Rawls has labeled the “burdens of judgment.” Second, public justification is required by our respect for people as free and equal moral beings (if they pass certain threshold tests of reasonableness). And third, public justification makes it possible to…

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