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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 33, 2017

Power and Public Reason

Gerald Gaus
Pages 27-52

Is Public Reason a Normalization Project? Deep Diversity and the Open Society

At one point Rawls thought that “a normalization of interests attributed to the parties” is “common to social contract doctrines.” Normalization has a great appeal: once we specify the normalized perspective, we can generate strong and definite principles of justice. Public reasoning is restricted to those who reason from the eligible, normalized, perspective; those who fall outside the “normal” are to be dismissed as unreasonable, unjust, or illiberal. As Rawls’s political liberalism project developed he increasingly relaxed his normalization assumptions, allowing room for not only different conceptions of the good, but of justice. This paper explores the post-Rawlsian movement in public reason to maximally relax, or even abandon, normalizing assumptions, drawing on a maximal diversity of normative perspectives in public justification. The public reason project is at a critical juncture. Are we to look back, defending Rawls’s substantive conclusions by devising new defenses of normalization, circling the wagons around the cherished two principles? Or are we to seek to fulfill the promise of public reason as providing a common public and moral world in the midst of diversity?

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