This preview shows page 1. Sign up to view the full content.
Unformatted text preview: s the basis of this need for consensus? To be sure, the
consensus that is aimed at is reasonable consensus among reasonable persons.
Reasonable consensus does not imply actual consensus. The unreasonable persons in
plato.stanfor d.edu/entr ies/democr acy/ 7/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) society need not agree with the terms of association arrived at by reasonable persons in
order for those terms to be legitimate.
The basic principle seems to be the principle of reasonableness according to which
reasonable persons will only offer principles for the regulation of their society that
other reasonable persons can reasonably accept. The notion of the reasonable is meant
to be fairly weak on this account. One can reasonably reject a doctrine to the extent that
it is incompatible with one's own doctrine as long as one's doctrine does not imply
imposition on others and it is a doctrine that has survived sustained critical reflection.
So this principle is a kind of principle of reciprocity. One only offers principles that
others, who restrain themselves in the same way, can accept. Such a principle implies a
kind of principle of restraint which requires that reasonable persons not propose laws
and policies on the basis of controversial principles for the regulation of society. When
individuals offer proposals for the regulation of their society, they ought not to appeal
to the whole truth as they see it but only to that part of the whole truth that others can
reasonably accept. To put the matter in the way Rawls puts it: political society must be
regulated by principles on which there is an overlapping consensus (Rawls, 1996,
Lecture IV). This is meant to obviate the need for a complete consensus on the
principles that regulate society.
What moral reasons can there be for restraining oneself from offering what one takes
to be the best justified proposals for the terms of the society one lives in? One might
consider a number of arguments for this principle of reasonableness. One argument is
an epistemological one. It is that there is no justification independent of what people or
at least reasonable people believe. Hence, if one cannot provide a justification for
principles that others can accept given their reasonable beliefs then those principles are
not justified for those persons. Another argument is a moral argument. One fails to
respect the reason of the other members of society if one imposes terms of association
on them that they cannot accept given their reasonable views. This failure of respect for
the reason of the other members of society defeats the value of the principles one is
proposing for the society. A third argument is a specifically democratic argument. One
does not genuinely treat others as equals if one insists on imposing principles on them
that they cannot reasonably accept, even if this imposition takes place against the
background of egalitarian decision making processes.
Each of these three arguments can be questioned. On the democratic argument, it
simply isn’t clear why it is necessary to democratic equality to justify ones views on
terms that others can accept. If each person has robust rights to participate in debate and
decision making and each person's views are given a reasonable hearing, it is not clear
why equality requires more. My rejection of another person's beliefs does not in any
way imply that I think that person is inferior to me in capacity or in moral worth or in
the rights to have a say in society. The epistemological argument seems to presuppose a
far too restrictive conception of justification to be plausible. Many beliefs are justified
for me even if they are not compatible with the political beliefs I currently hold as long
plato.stanfor d.edu/entr ies/democr acy/ 8/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) as those beliefs can be vindicated by the use of procedures and methods of thinking that
I use to evaluate beliefs. The conception of respect for reason in the moral argument
seems not obviously to favor the principle of reasonableness. It may require that I do as
much as I can to make sure that the society I live in conform to what I take to be
rationally defensible norms. Of course, I may also believe that such a society must be
democratically organized in which case I will attempt to advance these principles
through the democratic process.
Moreover, it is hard to see how this approach avoids the need for a complete consensus,
which is highly unlikely to occur in any even moderately diverse society. The reason for
this is that it is not clear why it is any less of an imposition on me when I propose
legislation or policies for the society that I must restrain myself to considerations that
other reasonable people accept than it is an imposition on others when I attempt to pass
legislation on the basis of reasons they reasonably reject. For if I do restrain myself in
this way, then the society I live in will not live up to the standards that I believe are
essential to evaluating the society. I must then...
View Full Document