Must the Good Citizen Respect Human Life?
The intrinsic value of human life and the consequent due respect for the latter are deeply entrenched in the law of western liberal democracies and widely used in public deliberations about fundamental political issues. The political significance of these principles is so great that it comes as no surprise that they have been incorporated into the philosophical modelling of democratic deliberation: in a well known footnote of Political Liberalism, John Rawls lists due respect for human life among the public reasons relevant for making decisions on the key issue of abortion. Despite its huge influence and the statement made by Rawls, I believe that the principle of respect for human life is incompatible with some fundamentals of the Rawlsian model of public justification, such as the distinction between comprehensive doctrines and political conceptions. Accordingly, the aim of my paper will be to prove that the idea that human life deserves special respect should not be regarded as a valid, Rawlsian public reason. After sketching the main features of the principle of respect for human life and of the Rawlsian account of public reason, I will propose two levels of criticism. Firstly, I will examine the most important traditional justifications for the principle, showing that they cannot meet the challenge posed by the fact of reasonable pluralism. Secondly, to refute the sheer possibility of a valid, public justification for the duty of respecting human life, I will show how citizens can have comprehensive views that deny the principle of respect for human life without being unreasonable and, therefore, that it is unreasonable to regard this principle as a public reason and impose it on citizens who can reasonably disagree about it.