On John Rawls and Public Reason

Dissertation, Northwestern University (1998)

This is an essay on John Rawls' conception of public reason. The goal is to understand and to criticize the philosophical position of public reason in Rawls' ideal theory of modern liberal democracy, a theory he calls "political liberalism." Rawls introduces his conception of public reason to explain how it is possible to create an ideally well-ordered state with a liberal conception of justice in a pluralistic society. The defining characteristic of Rawls' conception of public reason is that the common good in part is an artifact of constructive deliberation. I argue that the idea of democracy implied by Rawls' conception of public reason is a weak view of democracy because there is potentially an unauthentic and paternalistic relation between the political consensus and the political sentiments of the members of society. Habermas' and Gutmann and Thompson's alternative deliberative conceptions of democracy are no more successful than Rawls' in conceptualizing an ideally well-ordered political society under conditions of pluralism
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