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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 33, 2017

Power and Public Reason

Melissa Yates
Pages 73-90

Public Reasoning under Social Conditions of Strangerhood

Political philosophers have long focused on how to explain democratically legitimate governance under social conditions of pluralism. The challenge, when framed this way, is how to justify a common set of political principles without imposing controversial moral, religious, or metaphysical doctrines on one another. In this paper I propose an alternate starting point, replacing the concept of “social conditions of pluralism” with the background assumption that democratic societies must respond to “social conditions of strangerhood.” In the first section, I make my case for viewing political relationships in terms of relationships with and as strangers, partly illustrated by empirical examples. In the second section, I explain why I think solutions to the challenges of democratic pluralism in terms of the support for public deliberation and reasoning are doomed to fail in addressing much deeper dilemmas posed by the persistence of governing as strangers to the extent that they depend on ties of cultural or epistemic familiarity and commonality. Finally, in the third section, I propose ways we might change our expectations of democratic legitimacy to better facilitate our political relationships with and as strangers.

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