Democracy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

What is the basis of this need for consensus to be

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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...
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