The Fragility of Consensus: Public Reason, Diversity and Stability

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Abstract

John Rawls's transition from A Theory of Justice to Political Liberalism was driven by his rejection of Theory's account of stability. The key to his later account of stability is the idea of public reason. We see Rawls's account of stability as an attempt to solve a mutual assurance problem. We maintain that Rawls's solution fails because his primary assurance mechanism, in the form of public reason, is fragile. His conception of public reason relies on a condition of consensus that we argue is unrealistic in modern, pluralistic democracies. After rejecting Rawls's conception of public reason, we offer an ‘indirect alternative’ that we believe is much more robust. We cite experimental evidence to back up this claim.

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