13th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Fornaroli

Giulio Fornaroli

Reasonableness within Political Liberalism: Why It Cannot Serve as a Politically Binding Distinction

How should non-liberal people be treated in liberal societies? The reasonable/unreasonable dichotomy serves a number of uses within Rawls’ work and in the literature on political liberalism. These include reasonableness as an additional feature of rational agents deliberating in the original position as well as an explanation of the origin and persistence of moral pluralism in democratic societies. My focus will be on a third usage, which is as a feature that differentiates between citizens and allows differential treatment of those who do not adopt the cooperative attitude required by liberal citizenship. A number of theorists have been influenced by Rawls’ ambiguous suggestion that unreasonable doctrines should be ‘contained’. These have been both sympathetic and critical towards the political liberal tradition (Quong, Friedman, Kelly and McPherson, Sala, Gursozlu) and have debated the justifiability of treating unreasonable people differently by, for example, limiting their rights (Quong). I reject this use of reasonableness on three grounds. Firstly, this approach creates a tension between public justification, which is only to the reasonable on this view, and democratic participation; a contrast that would be accentuated in a society with a majority of people who hold ‘unreasonable’ conceptions of the good. The approach mandates treating that majority in the same way one might treat infants or the mentally incapacitated. If, however, one makes public justification more inclusive (Gaus), then justifying common principles and policies becomes impossible. Secondly, I will argue that reasonableness, as Rawls has employed the concept, suffers from excessive demandingness. Finally, I consider a possible justification of reasonableness-based differential treatment on purely consequentialist grounds, as securing stability, and argue that even this attempt is bound to fail given that stability does not essentially depend on there being a reasonable form of pluralism.