What is reasonableness?

Philosophy and Social Criticism 30 (5-6):597-621 (2004)


The concept of reasonableness is essential to John Rawls’s political liberalism, and especially to its main ideas of public reason and liberal legitimacy. Yet the somewhat ambiguous account of reasonableness in Political Liberalism has led to concerns that the Rawlsian distinction between the reasonable and the unreasonable is arbitrary and ultimately indefensible. This paper attempts to advance a more convincing interpretation of reasonableness. I argue that the reasonable applies first to citizens, who then play an important role in determining which comprehensive doctrines and political conceptions of justice are reasonable. In addition, while Rawls fails to specify explicitly the meaning of the reasonable in his standard of political justification (i.e. the liberal principle of legitimacy based on the criterion of reciprocity), I offer an interpretation of what it means for citizens to present reasonable claims and arguments to one another in public reason.

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James Boettcher
Saint Joseph's University of Pennsylvania

References found in this work

The Rational Versus the Reasonable.W. M. Sibley - 1953 - Philosophical Review 62 (4):554-560.
On Tolerating the Unreasonable.Erin Kelly & Lionel McPherson - 2001 - Journal of Political Philosophy 9 (1):38–55.

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Citations of this work

Habermas and Rawls on an Epistemic Status of the Principles of Justice.Krzysztof Kędziora - 2019 - Acta Universitatis Lodziensis. Folia Philosophica. Ethica-Aesthetica-Practica 34:31-46.
Educating Citizens to Public Reason: What Can We Learn From Interfaith Dialogue?Aurélia Bardon, Matteo Bonotti & Steven T. Zech - forthcoming - Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy:1-25.

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