The Place of Religious Belief in Public Reason Liberalism

Abstract
In the few decades a new conception of liberalism has arisen—the “public reason view” — which developed out of contractualist approaches to justifying liberalism. The social contract theories of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau all stressed that the justification of the state depended on showing that everyone would, in some way, consent to it. By relying on consent, social contract theory seemed to suppose a voluntarist conception of political justice: what is just depends on what people choose to agree to — what they will. As Hume famously pointed out, such accounts seem to imply that ultimately political justice derives from promissory obligations, which the social contract theory leaves unexplained.1 Only in Kant, I think, does it become clear that consent is not fundamental to a social contract view: we have a duty to agree to act according to the idea of the “original contract.”2 Rawls’s revival of social contract theory in A Theory of Justice also made no important appeal to consent, though the apparatus of an “original agreement” of sorts persisted. The aim of the original position, Rawls announced, is to settle “the question of justification…by working out a problem of deliberation.”3 As the question of public justification takes center stage (we might say as contractualist liberalism becomes justificatory liberalism), it becomes clear that posing the problem of justification in terms of a deliberative or a bargaining problem is simply a heuristic: the real issue..
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