Charitable interpretations: Emerson, Rawls, and Cavell on the use of public reason

Political Theory 32 (1):61-84 (2004)
John Rawls offers an account of public reason that argues that comprehensive doctrines are admissible into public deliberations of fundamental political matters only when they are used to say things that can also be said on the basis of the noncomprehensive liberal political values of freedom and equality. This essay argues that elements of comprehensive doctrines ought to be allowed into public reason even when those elements cannot be translated into the terms of liberal political values. It draws on Ralph Waldo Emerson's conception of communication among citizens and Stanley Cavell's interpretation of Emersonian moral perfectionism to develop a conception of public reason that allows a greater range of views held by citizens to play a legitimate role in democratic deliberations. An Emersonian conception of liberal democracy differs from Rawls's in that it more explicitly views the democratic community as actively engaged in continually revising and perfecting the liberal political values of freedom and equality
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DOI 10.1177/0090591703252160
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