Political legitimacy under epistemic constraints : why public reasons matter

In Melissa Schwartzberg (ed.), Political Legitimacy (forthcoming)

Fabienne Peter
University of Warwick
My aim in this paper is to provide an epistemological argument for why public reasons matter for political legitimacy. A key feature of the public reason conception of legitimacy is that political decisions must be justified to the citizens. Critics of the public reason conception, by contrast, argue that political legitimacy depends on justification simpliciter. Another way to put the point is that the critics of the public reason conception take the justification of political decisions to be based on reasons that are agreement-independent. I call such reasons objective reasons. Public reasons are, however, agreement-dependent. The debate between defenders and critics of a public reason conception of political legitimacy focuses on whether objective reasons or public reasons are the right basis for the justification of political decisions. My defense of the public reason conception will grant to its critics that there are objective reasons and allow that such reasons can affect the legitimacy of political decisions. But I will show, focusing on epistemic constraints on the justification of political decisions, that it does not follow that the justification of those decisions is necessarily agreement-independent. In the epistemic circumstances that are typical of political life, public reasons will be required for the justification of political decisions.
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