Thinking about Public Reasoning – The Engine of the Democratic Process

AA Khalid

On PTH we were blessed to have a thoroughly engaging and nuanced discussion on the nature and scope of religion in a democratic society thanks to Feroz Khan’s intersting post. I took a lot of points away from the debate and realised that when we are discussing the prospect of faith in society we have to consider a vast array of issues.

There is no one model of secularism, so we must have a separate debate on what type of secularity do we wish to see. In conjunction with a discussion on secularism, we need to debate the prospect of liberalism and what it’s relation to democracy must be.

Linked in with this crucial point there has to be a discussion on what type of ‘’State’’ does Pakistan need. Throughout the debate, a very illuminating point made by poster Krash was that in order to justify the sort of secular model I was proposing I had to logically accept a libertarian State in the classical liberal tradition. But there were other points aswell to be made. But there were other points aswell, such as the notion of what it is to be ‘’modern’’ and is religion necessarily against modernity or can it foster modernity? There were other critical questions raised in that thread aswell such as the history of Muslim political thought and political ethics. We also need a discussion on civic virtue and what does it mean to be a good citizen, in short a wholesale debate on the ethics of citizenship.

But for now I wish (and try!) to discuss the notion of public reason alone, without trying to get sidetracked by other critical discussion on the scope of the State, the nature of religiosity, the nature of the public sphere and theories of modernization and secularization. It is with spirit of free inquiry that characterised Feroz Khan’s post that I pen this one, long may PTH function as a forum of mature discussion.

Public Reason

Public reason is a pillar of modern liberalism elaborated best in John Rawl’s works most notably, A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism. Though we can trace the concept of ‘’public reason’’ back to the German philosopher Kant, who wrote on the matter of public reason in his famous treatise, ‘’What is Enlightenment’’:

‘’ The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among mankind; the private use of reason may, however, often be very narrowly restricted, without otherwise hindering the progress of enlightenment.’’[i]

Rawl’s Conception of Public Reason

Rawl’s work is immense and has revitalised the field of political philosophy in the last few decades, to the extent that any serious student of political theory will consider Rawl’s texts as mandatory reading in an effort to grasp the essential conflicts of modern political thought. On the question of using religious/metaphysical arguments in the public sphere, Rawls writes:

‘’ There is no necessity to invoke theological or metaphysical doctrines to support its principles, nor to imagine another world that compensates for and corrects the inequalities which the two principles permit in this one. Conceptions of justice must be justified by the conditions of our life as we know it or not at all’’[ii]

Rawls’s main concern is to try and manage the equality of all citizens in a pluralist society, and this means to develop a language and conception of the common good accessible to all. Though Rawls is not naive, he understands the power that the ‘’comprehensive doctrines’’ of faith have over some citizens he wishes to achieve an ‘’overlapping consensus’’:

‘’ There can, in fact, be considerable differences in citizens’ conceptions of justice provided that these conceptions lead to similar political judgments. And this is possible, since different premises can yield the same conclusion. In this case there exists what we may refer to as overlapping rather than strict consensus.’’[iii]

This notion of an ‘’overlapping consensus’’ can then be tied into a spirit of democratic reciprocity where citizens respect each other’s right and role in the democratic process. Rawl’s innovatory political theory is that citizens from different walks of life can come together to rationally make critical decision about public policy. This can be distinguished from mere liberalism and be described as ‘’Justificatory Liberalism’’, since in this liberal theory thinkers such as Rawls are concerned about the democratic process and how it can be kept alive in the midst of mind-boggling pluralism.

Justificatory Liberalism

It is perhaps this notion which is widely used by secularist authors who argue that in their model of secular liberalism, religious opinions are to be totally ignored in the democratic process but that religious practice can continue because of the liberal commitment to religious liberty. Rawls defines this project of justificatory liberalism as:

‘’Central to the idea of public reason [as described within justificatory liberalism]  is that it neither criticizes nor attacks  any comprehensive doctrine, religious or nonreligious, except insofar as that  doctrine is incompatible with the essentials of public reason and a democratic polity.’’[iv]

We should consider Rawl’s work a great achievement and his proposals as a great effort to achieve democratic coherence within modern nation states. However, there are some serious critiques to be made about Rawl’s account of the role of religion in the public sphere.

Habermasian Critique

Recently Jurgen Habermas one of the most influential philosophers today who regards his work as premised on ‘’methodological atheism’’ surprised observers by saying we should wholeheartedly welcome a secularism that incorporates religious arguments and citizens in the democratic process. Habermas writes:

‘’ The liberal state must not transform the requisite institutional separation of religion and politics into an undue mental and psychological burden for those of its citizens who follow a faith.’’[v]

Habermas argues that religious citizens are unreasonably expected to carry the burden of psychologically checking themselves. We cannot derive from the secular character of the state an obligation for all citizens to supplement their public religious contributions by equivalents in a generally accessible language .[vi]

In a way Habermas like Kant is a philosopher who does object to the dogmatism of religious authority but is fascinated with how religious faith can influence moral reasoning and it is in this sense Habermas sees it in the interest of democracy that religious citizens feel at ease with the democratic process and be able to freely cite religious reasons, instead of trying to rely on secular justification. One could argue that the State itself is taking upon a worldview by deliberately ignoring religious citizen’s right to public reasoning, though it is probably more agnostic than atheistic.

The assumption in not only Habermas’s critique but in the work of other political theorists such as Eberle’s Religious Convictions in Liberal Politics; Kent Greenawalt’s Private Consciences and Public Reasons, Jeffery Stout’s, Democracy and Tradition,  or Weithman’s Religion and the Obligations of Citizenship, is that the ‘’secular’’ should not be the only centre of universal citizenship, in others ‘’secular political language’’ should not be the only orthodox mode of political discussion in a nation state. Whereas, Rawls only places the burden of ‘’translating political language’’ on religious citizens, Habermas and others expect that all citizens should try and enter into dialogue with each other showing their true intentions and motives. After all a crucial part of the democratic process is the sincerity of all citizens.

A great indicator of successful governance is the way we manage not only our religious but also cultural differences, especially in the process of public reasoning. Should we exclude religious sentiments from the public sphere to prevent a scenario of the Tower of Babel where there are so many different languages being spoken as to make the democratic process incoherent? Or should we try and pursue homogeneity in the way citizens make decisions and reason? The crucial question is of course, in order to try and implement the latter, do we have to adopt the draconian laws of say Arab secularism in Egypt where religious slogans in a political context is an actual offence?

Eberle rightly writes:

‘’ Equal treatment of religious and secular reasons is the order of the day, whether in the halls of Congress or around the dinner table: religious believers have no more, and no less, a responsibility to aspire to persuade their secular compatriots than secularists have an obligation to aspire to persuade their religious compatriots; if laws that lack a plausible religious rationale are permissible, then so are laws that lack a plausible secular rationale; if secularists may support laws solely on the basis of reasons that fail to persuade religious believers, then so also may religious believers support laws solely on the basis of reasons that fail to persuade secularists.’’[vii]

The religious roots of liberalism

Indeed, part of the reason why many object to the exclusion of religious public reason is that traditionally speaking, it can be argued that the language of liberal thought was couched in religious terms, tinged with metaphysics and theology. Indeed, Habermas notes this ‘’complex web of inheritance’’ that fostered the growth of the liberal spirit:

‘’ Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love.”

But there is another point and that is about modernization. Religious modernization and religious reform is a crucial part of democratization. It can be said that democracy has to in one way or another make its way through the gates of religious theology. Modernity itself is merely an innovative theological shift from one set of metaphysical answers to another more emancipatory set of metaphysical answers.

Modernity should be understood, ‘’as an attempt to find a new metaphysical/theological answer to the question of the nature and relation of God, man and the natural world that arose in the late medieval world as a result of a titanic struggle between contradictory elements within Christianity itself. Modernity, as we understand and experience it, came to be as a series of attempts to constitute a new and coherent metaphysics/theology.”[viii]

Conclusion

The principle of political secularism in so far as to maintain an institutional division between temporal and religious authority is a critical requirement for a modern nation state. However, beyond that the State should have no right to impose a narrow conception of what political language can or cannot be used. However, to avoid confusion, no public policy suggestions which conflict with a nation’s constitutional principles should be taken note of. Citizens be they religious or otherwise are still bound to a fundamental set of values which form the basis of liberal citizenship such as the equality of all citizens and tolerance.

Citizens do not have the obligation to provide public reasons or translations in terms of public reasons for each policy proposal they support or criticize, but they do have the obligation to address those reasons if they are challenged by others. Whenever citizens manage to cast their objections to a proposed policy in terms of public reasons generally acceptable to democratic citizens (i.e., reasons based on democratic ideas of citizens as free and equal, of society as a fair scheme of cooperation, etc.), those who defend it have the obligation to address these objections and to offer convincing reasons against them before such a coercive policy can be legitimately enforced.[ix]

The crux of the democratic process is fruitful, open and inclusive dialogue between citizens, but in order for this to take place citizens must be free to cite the arguments that inspire them to take the decisions that they do. In this instance, democratic reasoning particularly within the liberal framework of citizenship should be citizens learning from each other, which must mean citizens being open about what inspires them to take the decisions that they do.

The public sphere is distinct from the State, and indeed we should view the diversity of viewpoints with appreciation as a sign of a growing democracy. Religion should not be accorded institutional privilege of having uncontested and unchallenged access to legislative power. But religious citizens must realize that the State must remain ‘’neutral’’ to allow the public space and inevitably citizens to have a fair attempt at democratic reasoning.

The type of secularity we advocate must be consistent with the liberal ethic of citizenship and inclusive democracy. Democracy should be a forum for inclusion as a means to diffuse cultural and religious tension by means of dialogue and tolerance.

The public sphere is crucial and we may think of it as analogous with civil society because, it represents:

‘’A theatre in  modern  societies  in which  political  participation  is  enacted  through  the medium of  talk.  It  is  the  space  in  which  citizens  deliberate  about  their  common affairs,  hence,  an  institutionalized  arena of  discursive  interaction.  This  arena  is conceptually  distinct  from  the  state;  it  a  site  for  the production  and circulation  of discourses  that can  in principle  be  critical of  the  state.’’[x]


[ii] (Rawls, A Theory of Justice , 1999, p. 398)

[iii] (Rawls, A Theory of Justice , 1999, p. 340)

[iv](Rawls, Law of Peoples – Idea of Public Reason Revisited, 2002, p. 132)

[v](Habermas, April 2006, p. 9)

[vi] (Habermas, April 2006, p. 9)

[vii] Eberle, Christopher. (2008). An ideal of conscientious engagement. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from The Immanent Frame Web site: http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2008/03/14/an-ideal-of-conscientious-engagement/

[viii] (Gillespie, 2008, p. xii)

[ix] Bellah, Robert. (2008). Religious reasons & secular revelations. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from The Immanent Frame Web site: http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2008/02/26/religious-reasons-secular-revelations/

[x] (Fraser, 1990, p. 57)

Bibliography

Bellah, Robert. (2008). Religious reasons & secular revelations. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from The Immanent Frame Web site: http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2008/02/26/religious-reasons-secular-revelations/

Eberle, Christopher. (2008). An ideal of conscientious engagement. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from The Immanent Frame Web site: http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2008/03/14/an-ideal-of-conscientious-engagement/

Fraser, N. (1990). Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy. Social Text , 56-80.

Gillespie, M. (2008). Theologial Origins of Modernity. University of Chicago Press.

Habermas, J. (April 2006). Religion in the Public Sphere. European Journal of Philosophy , 14 (1), 1-25.

Kant, I. (1784). What is Enlightenment? (http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Etexts/kant.html)

Rawls, J. (1999). A Theory of Justice . Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Rawls, J. (2002). Law of Peoples – Idea of Public Reason Revisited. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


13 Comments

Filed under Pakistan

13 responses to “Thinking about Public Reasoning – The Engine of the Democratic Process

  1. This article will be a very useful, learning and reflective next step in the debate on the role of religion and state, and I am interested in seeing what comments flow from this article. With the current topical discussions on blasphemy laws fermenting on PTH, may be this article would offer a perfect forum to collate the comment in a more organized manner for future references.

    AA Khalid; thanks for following up and keeping the enquiry of learning alive!

    ciao

  2. krash

    @AA Khalid,

    An excellent, thoughtful article that raises important questions. The part that caught my attention was,

    “One could argue that the State itself is taking upon a worldview by deliberately ignoring religious citizen’s right to public reasoning, though it is probably more agnostic than atheistic.”

    Indeed! That worldview is usually called Secular Humanism (or Rationalism). Its basic principle is that there exists objective truth that can be arrived at through Independent Reason.

    Religion should be properly defined as a foundational (or ultimate) worldview from which a person derives the motivations for all his actions including ethical and political ones.

    Once we realize that Secular Humanism also falls under this definition of religion then it becomes apparent that there can really be no separation of State and Religion. Whatever the state does must be based on SOME principles that must come from SOME worldview. That worldview becomes the dominant ‘state religion’ . In Western democracies Secular Humanism has assumed that role.

    The best that liberal democracies can offer is that this process of selection of ‘state religion’ is coercion-free and represents the will of the majority. And, importantly, certain basic rights of ALL citizens, agreed upon by prior consensus, are protected. This includes equality before the law.

    In Turkey, we are seeing the emergence of a liberal, democratic state that is committed to the protection of basic rights of ALL its citizens. But its dominant worldview is not going to be secular humanistic. It will be based on the Islamic worldview of the overwhelming majority of the Turkish population.

    This is the ideal that many Pakistanis call ‘Islamic Democracy’ – a liberal democratic state that is committed to the protection of basic rights of ALL its citizens and treats them all equally before the law. But, whose dominant worldview is derived from the Islamic faith of the majority of its citizens and not the secular humanism of the west.

    I would certainly support such a state as an improvement over the illiberal democracy/dictatorships that we have endured so far. I would also prefer it over a democracy where secular humanism dominates because I think an Islamic democracy will better represent the will of the Pakistani people.

    What I would like to see is that secular humanists make common cause with Islamic democrats on the issue of liberalism and jointly fight against illiberal laws and work together to make the state more liberal. Unfortunately, they seem to be convinced that Islamic=illiberal and as a result both sides are divided and weakened.

    As you have mentioned in your article, while I support an Islamic democratic state, my ideal would be a libertarian state. Libertarianism goes beyond secularism. It reduces the state to the minimum – the protection of life and property. Now, every religion and secular ideology agrees on the necessity of protection of life and property. A libertarian state would be acting in the domain that is common to ALL citizens. It would not be privileging any ideology. It makes secularism a moot point. It should do no more. It cannot do more without selecting an ideology, even though the selection process may be a democratic one. Private citizens would be
    free to practice their religion in private AND public outside the domain of the state.

  3. Salman Arshad

    @ AA Khalid

    Thank you for the very succinct explanation of the “public sphere”.

    I would request you to explain a little further in the context of Pakistan’s public sphere, in how an application of your reasoning would work. The comments section is probably most appropriate for this.

    Personally, I really appreciated the point about every citizen being honest about their intentions. And that of not having any psychological burden.

    But, that point is the point that gives real power to the extreme Taliban-style religion, which is the most honest interpretation.

    In particular, if I try to apply your reasoning to the recent blasphemy case, the current public sphere is already enough open and “honest” in terms of the citizens’ real intentions. There is also ample space for people of every religion or sect (excluding non-religious liberals) to come up with their point of view. And because it has been open, only the most honest interpretation, even if it was the most brutal, won.

    This is precisely what would happen if the Taliban would be invited in an open and honest public sphere. They will win every time in every discussion. Simply because their arguments are the most honest. As for their appeal, Yvonne Ridley would vouch for them!

    Democracy should be a forum for inclusion as a means to diffuse cultural and religious tension by means of dialogue and tolerance.

    Depends hugely on what you mean by religious tension.
    If religious tension is actually political tension, then it might be diffused. The solution to the Babri Masjid case was very much a diffusion of tension based on the idea of ownership of land. It was solved as if it was a non-religious issue.

    But if religious tension is based on purely theological issues, lets say the Shia/Sunni divide, or the blasphemy case, there is no way even for the Almighty to resolve such issues, since they are fundamentally based on BELIEFS, not reasoning.

    And this is my fundamental gripe with opening up religion in the public sphere in the hope of maintaining secularism. How will people “believing” in something argue over it ? How will the debate even proceed ?? Won’t any debate come to halt, the moment some party puts up their “belief” to be the reason behind something they hold to be true ?

  4. AA Khalid

    @ Krash

    ”Indeed! That worldview is usually called Secular Humanism (or Rationalism). Its basic principle is that there exists objective truth that can be arrived at through Independent Reason. ”

    I do think that the claim within contemporary liberalism that the State does not legislate morality is a naive one. The civil rights movement in the US is a case in point in where a nation is indeed legislating morality and trying to foster moral sentiments of egalitarianism and mutual respect between citizens. The fact of the matter is that virtue is needed within a liberal State whether we like it or not. Citizens in the words of Tocqueville need to have the qualities of mind and habits of heart to engage in civic discussion within the liberal state. The liberal state needs civic resources to sustain it and this means citizens can claim and should be able to claim inspiration from their particular world view. The State should abide and implement some key Constitutional principles about citizenship and liberty but apart from that I do not think the State should try and influence the public discussion about policy in a coercive manner.

    ‘’Religion should be properly defined as a foundational (or ultimate) worldview from which a person derives the motivations for all his actions including ethical and political ones…

    ‘’The best that liberal democracies can offer is that this process of selection of ‘state religion’ is coercion-free and represents the will of the majority. And, importantly, certain basic rights of ALL citizens, agreed upon by prior consensus, are protected. This includes equality before the law. ‘’

    I agree, but we should still maintain that religious institutions remain separate and independent and that such institutions have no legislative privileges. There should still be an institutional separation, but not a psychological one since that is invades a citizen’s autonomy and freedom to use public reason.

    ‘’In Turkey, we are seeing the emergence of a liberal, democratic state that is committed to the protection of basic rights of ALL its citizens. But its dominant worldview is not going to be secular humanistic. It will be based on the Islamic worldview of the overwhelming majority of the Turkish population. ‘’

    I agree, the AKP has instiuted some of the most liberalizing reforms in the Muslim World in recent times, and most impressively they have done this within a democratic setup, without using coercive force.
    I agree with the rest of your post, but I still have doubts about the libertarian state, because of the economic ideology associated with it. I don’t think that I could support a libertarian State, because I believe developing nation states need to progress towards a form of welfare economics. I do support corrective government action in markets.

  5. AA Khalid

    ’I would request you to explain a little further in the context of Pakistan’s public sphere, in how an application of your reasoning would work. The comments section is probably most appropriate for this.’’

    That is a fair suggestion, I will work on this.

    ‘’But, that point is the point that gives real power to the extreme Taliban-style religion, which is the most honest interpretation.’’
    This is a contentious issue, because I have read polls and studies most notably from the Gallup Poll that Pakistani citizens do support a democratic system, and do appreciate human rights.

    ‘’In particular, if I try to apply your reasoning to the recent blasphemy case, the current public sphere is already enough open and “honest” in terms of the citizens’ real intentions. There is also ample space for people of every religion or sect (excluding non-religious liberals) to come up with their point of view. And because it has been open, only the most honest interpretation, even if it was the most brutal, won.’’

    I would argue this is not the case, since the Pakistani State gives legislative privileges to orthodox clerics who can use the platform and might of the State to further their cause and agenda. The public sphere in Pakistan is not open at all; it is dominated by State interference, for decades civil society in Pakistan has been hampered by military interference. The Army, tyrannical governments and the clergy have all had such a negative impact on the democratic system in Pakistan that the public sphere has been deeply damaged. Historically, speaking a ‘’public sphere’’ in Pakistan has not existed. The development of a free and open ”public sphere” in Pakistan has been severely hampered and harmed by the military, clerics and the ills of tribalism, ethnic tension and the prevailing lack of a common civic identity.

    ”’Democracy should be a forum for inclusion as a means to diffuse cultural and religious tension by means of dialogue and tolerance. Depends hugely on what you mean by religious tension.”

    If religious tension is actually political tension, then it might be diffused.’’
    Great point. I do of course mean political tensions between different religious groups.

    ‘’But if religious tension is based on purely theological issues…’’
    No the State, should not interfere in intra-theological and ecumenical discussion between sects. This is not the business of the State. But when the State legislates laws it is in part also legislating morality. Take for instance the equality of all citizens, this is a beautiful ethical teaching which is legislated by the State in an effort to foster moral sentiments of love and kinship between citizens of a nation. I am not so much interested in theology as I am in the moral/ethical dimension of legislation and political decision making. We cannot ignore our moral convictions in politics. It just so happens in a religious society, religion is a source of morality for many. That of course doesn’t mean, ‘’religion=morality’’, since that is a naive and simplistic assertion, you can of course rely on secular philosophy and still be a very upright and moral citizen. But the idea is that the public sphere is inevitably going to have to deal with the moral convictions of citizens, hence you will have some citizens appealing to religious teaching and other ‘’world-views’’.

    ‘’And this is my fundamental gripe with opening up religion in the public sphere in the hope of maintaining secularism.’’

    But think of the alternative. The only way to keep religion out of the public sphere is by using authoratarian means, hence we could descend into the failed experiment of autocratic Arab secularism, where religious movements are marginalized in the open (they just operate underground) but there is no longer democratic freedom. I think we have to heed Kant’s advice, ‘’enlightenment’’ is a gradual process.

    I am just saying that a politics of liberalism emptied of substantive moral engagement makes for an impoverished civic life. It is also an open invitation to narrow, intolerant moralisms. Fundamentalists rush in where liberals fear to tread.For instance on issues of say tax reform ,welfare economics or medical ethics citizens should be able to derive inspiration and justification from moral/metaphysical arguments. How can we have a discussion on justice and rights without making ethical and moral claims?

    What I do say however, is that citizens should not be dogmatic and try and address any points of objection against their reasoning raised by others. Ideally, in the public sphere, citizens should learn from each other and come to a reasoned consesus through a means of give and take. As Kant made it clear,”The death of dogma is the birth of morality”.

    Tied in with my discussion we need to mention the ideal of citizenship. In Pakistan we do not have a clear idea about civic discourse, civic engagement or citizenship. We need to foster a mindset of citizenship for an inclusive public sphere to emerge, otherwise hopes of a liberal State will hopelessly fail.

  6. AA Khalid

    The post on December 4, 2010 at 5:33 pm was addressed to Salman Arshad.

  7. krash

    “only the most honest interpretation, even if it was the most brutal, won.”

    1000 years of Islamic history is witness to the fact that the most extreme and brutal interpretations have always been on the margin and not the mainstream.

    Taliban style interpretations are actually at odds with even conservative traditional jurisprudence.

  8. krash

    “we should still maintain that religious institutions remain separate and independent and that such institutions have no legislative privileges” .

    Of course I agree that sectarian institutions should not become part of the state. But, on the other hand, the state itself becomes a kind of a religious institution, although of a unique kind. A multi-sect institution in which various sects participate but one or two dominate.

    The root of the problem is that all state actions are coercive to some extent. When is coercion permissible? Surely, it must be minimized as much as possible. The libertarian ideal is to eliminate coercion altogether and only act to defend against violation of rights.

  9. krash

    “I still have doubts about the libertarian state, because of the economic ideology associated with it”

    This, of course, is a separate topic that will take us off on a tangent. So, I will only address it briefly. The libertarian economic ideology is simply that all economic exchanges be conducted voluntarily among willing participants. Government action (other than prevention of fraud and aggression) imposes coercion on the participants and is not justifiable on grounds of natural rights.

    Many of the injustices of the so-called free market can be attributed to the complicity of government and big business and would be eliminated in a libertarian market.

    The welfare activities of the government can be performed much more effectively by private charitable foundations. Look at what Edhi and Imran Khan have achieved in Pakistan compared to the pathetic efforts of our government.

  10. Rashid Aurakzai

    “the private use of reason may, however, often be very narrowly restricted, without otherwise hindering the progress of enlightenment.’’

    What is ‘private use of reason’?
    And
    Why restrict it?

  11. Rashid Aurakzai

    AA Khalid:

    “However, to avoid confusion, no public policy suggestions which conflict with a nation’s constitutional principles should be taken note of.”

    “Conceptions of justice must be justified by the conditions of our life as we know it or not at all’’

    ‘’ There can, in fact, be considerable differences in citizens’ conceptions of justice provided that these conceptions lead to similar political judgments. And this is possible, since different premises can yield the same conclusion.”

    Could you elaborate please?

  12. AA Khalid

    @ RK

    ”What is ‘private use of reason’?
    And
    Why restrict it?”

    Kant discusses quiet at length what he means by public and private reason, you need to read his full tract to understand how he uses those terms. However, it seems that Kant thinks that ”private reason” is when citizens do not use their own reasoning but rather resort to an authority. It is when citizens submit their reasoning to a higher authority, for instance an officer must obey his superior on duty (hence private reason is naturally restricted), whilst a scholar deliberating is an example of public reason.

    Though this exercept is most relevant:

    ” The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among mankind; the private use of reason may, however, often be very narrowly restricted, without otherwise hindering the progress of enlightenment. By the public use of one’s own reason I understand the use that anyone as a scholar makes of reason before the entire literate world.

    I call the private use of reason that which a person may make in a civic post or office that has been entrusted to him. Now in many affairs conducted in the interests of a community, a certain mechanism is required by means of which some of its members must conduct themselves in an entirely passive manner so that through an artificial unanimity the government may guide them toward public ends, or at least prevent them from destroying such ends. Here one certainly must not argue, instead one must obey. However, insofar as this part of the machine also regards himself as a member of the community as a whole, or even of the world community, and as a consequence addresses the public in the role of a scholar, in the proper sense of that term, he can most certainly argue, without thereby harming the affairs for which as a passive member he is partly responsible.

    Thus it would be disastrous if an officer on duty who was given a command by his superior were to question the appropriateness or utility of the order. He must obey. But as a scholar he cannot be justly constrained from making comments about errors in military service, or from placing them before the public for its judgment. The citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes imposed on him; indeed, impertinent criticism of such levies, when they should be paid by him, can be punished as a scandal (since it can lead to widespread insubordination). But the same person does not act contrary to civic duty when, as a scholar, he publicly expresses his thoughts regarding the impropriety or even injustice of such taxes.

    Likewise a pastor is bound to instruct his catecumens and congregation in accordance with the symbol of the church he serves, for he was appointed on that condition. But as a scholar he has complete freedom, indeed even the calling, to impart to the public all of his carefully considered and well-intentioned thoughts concerning mistaken aspects of that symbol, as well as his suggestions for the better arrangement of religious and church matters. Nothing in this can weigh on his conscience.

    What he teaches in consequence of his office as a servant of the church he sets out as something with regard to which he has no discretion to teach in accord with his own lights; rather, he offers it under the direction and in the name of another. He will say, “Our church teaches this or that and these are the demonstrations it uses.” He thereby extracts for his congregation all practical uses from precepts to which he would not himself subscribe with complete conviction, but whose presentation he can nonetheless undertake, since it is not entirely impossible that truth lies hidden in them, and, in any case, nothing contrary to the very nature of religion is to be found in them. If he believed he could find anything of the latter sort in them, he could not in good conscience serve in his position; he would have to resign. Thus an appointed teacher’s use of his reason for the sake of his congregation is merely private, because, however large the congregation is, this use is always only domestic; in this regard, as a priest, he is not free and cannot be such because he is acting under instructions from someone else. By contrast, the cleric–as a scholar who speaks through his writings to the public as such, i.e., the world–enjoys in this public use of reason an unrestricted freedom to use his own rational capacities and to speak his own mind. For that the (spiritual) guardians of a people should themselves be immature is an absurdity that would insure the perpetuation of absurdities.”’

    Your next question:
    ”“However, to avoid confusion, no public policy suggestions which conflict with a nation’s constitutional principles should be taken note of.””

    Let’s use this in an example. The State for instance should not legislate policies which conflict with the constitutional principles of equal citizenship or religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

    ”“Conceptions of justice must be justified by the conditions of our life as we know it or not at all’’”’

    This is not my opinion. This is John Rawl’s opinion who says that whenever we speak of justice we should not resort to ”religious/metaphysical arguments”. We should not use teleological reasoning.

    ”‘’ There can, in fact, be considerable differences in citizens’ conceptions of justice provided that these conceptions lead to similar political judgments. And this is possible, since different premises can yield the same conclusion.””

    Again this is Rawls’s position. What Rawls is describing here is his innovative principle of ”overlapping consensus”. This is when citizens in a pluralistic society come together to agree a very ”narrow” conception of justice. This means citizens from different backgrounds can agree that democracy, rule of law, liberty and human rights are all things they would like to see in their society.

    However, questions about how to live your life and what is the ”common good” and ”good life” are not to be discussed because Rawls thinks a society only needs to agree on what is the best political arrangement and hence there is no need to discuss philosophy and ethics.

    I do not take this position, because I do not think you can talk about justice and rights without having a discussion on ethics, morality and philosophy.

    This is a helpful explanation on the notion of ”overlapping consensus that I found (Taken from Overlapping Consensus: What is the idea of the overlapping consensus? How plausible is it?) (just google it):

    ””””””In ‘Political Liberalism’, Rawls sets out to answer the question:
    “How is it possible for there to exist over time a just, stable society of free and equal citizens, who remain profoundly divided by reasonable religious, philosophical and moral doctrines?” [P.4]

    There are three main conditions that make up his theory of political liberalism:

    (i) The basic structure of society is regulated by the political conception of justice
    (ii) This is the focus of the overlapping consensus of reasonable comprehensive doctrines
    (iii) Public discussion, when constitutional essentials and questions of basic justice are at stake, is conducted in terms of the political conception of justice

    What we are concerned with is the second of these points.

    Rawls acknowledges that people may reasonably and rationally hold vastly different religious, philosophical and moral beliefs and he attempts to show how these can be fitted in to a framework of political liberalism. Rawls makes the distinction between conceptions of justice that allow for plurality of reasonable beliefs and those which do not (ie. that think there is one conception of the good which must be recognised by all rational people) The claim that is central to Rawls’ argument seems to be this:

    “No comprehensive doctrine is appropriate as a political conception for a constitutional regime” [P.135]

    I would agree that even if you believe in an objective good which holds for all people, unless this can be proved rationally, then it is a mistake to base a political system upon it. Rawls makes the point that questions about constitutional essentials should be settled by consulting political values alone. He claims that the public conception of justice should be independent of comprehensive religious, philosophical and moral doctrines. It is important to realise that Rawls is not making the claim that particular beliefs and theories of the good are necessarily false, he merely argues that using political power to enforce them would be wrong.

    Rawls answers a number of criticisms of his doctrine of overlapping consensus, and i would argue that his defences of the theory seem satisfactory. The first objection is that the overlapping consensus is merely a modus vivendi that is to say, a compromise pending the settlement of disputes about conceptions of the good. It is put forward as a criticism that there is no hope of political community, where everyone is united in affirming the same comprehensive doctrine. I agree with Rawls that this cannot be achieved because history shows us that reasonable pluralism is possible and he claims that oppressive state power is not permitted to overcome it.

    Rawls argues that the overlapping consensus is not merely a modus vivendi because it has a moral basis and it is stable, that is to say it will still be supported in spite of shifts in political power.

    Another objection is that avoidance of comprehensive doctrines implies indifference or skepticism as to whether a political conception of justice can be true, as opposed to merely reasonable. Rawls replies that if this were true it would defeat the aim of an overlapping consensus. However, he argues that the political conception should be accepted as true by everyone, regardless of their particular beliefs.””””

  13. Rashid Aurakzai

    @AAK:

    Thank You. Your time and effort is highly appreciated, without which I would’ve certainly skipped the important part of of topic.