Public Reason in Political Philosophy: Classic Sources and Contemporary Commentaries, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Public Reason in Political Philosophy

Classic Sources and Contemporary Commentaries, 1st Edition

Edited by Piers Norris Turner, Gerald Gaus


404 pages

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Hardback: 9780415855594
pub: 2017-08-21
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When people of good faith and sound mind disagree deeply about moral, religious, and other philosophical matters, how can we justify political institutions to all of them? The idea of public reason—of a shared public standard, despite disagreement—arose in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the work of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant. At a time when John Rawls’ influential theory of public reason has come under fire but its core idea remains attractive to many, it is important not to lose sight of earlier philosophers’ answers to the problem of private conflict through public reason.

The distinctive selections from the great social contract theorists in this volume emphasize the pervasive theme of intractable disagreement and the need for public justification. New essays by leading scholars then put the historical work in context and provide a focus of debate and discussion. They also explore how the search for public reason has informed a wider body of modern political theory—in the work of Hume, Hegel, Bentham, and Mill—sometimes in surprising ways. The idea of public reason is revealed as an overarching theme in modern political philosophy—one very much needed today.


"A very welcome overview on one of the most important topics in political philosophy from the past to its vibrant future. A valuable addition that does well to put public reason in historical context – and highlight its continuing urgency."

--Thom Brooks, Durham Law School

"Each of the chapters on individual philosophers is written by a top-flight scholar in the work of that particular figure. While written in a manner that will make them accessible to advanced undergraduates, these chapters will be of interest to specialists."

--Dale E. Miller, Old Dominion University

"Questions about ‘public reason’ did not begin with John Rawls. As the historical selections in this volume demonstrate, the problem of dealing with deep moral and religious disagreement has constituted a major theme of modern political philosophy since the 17th century. The contemporary commentaries on those selections do an excellent job of situating them in the context of current debates."

--Matt Zwolinski, University of San Diego

Table of Contents

Table of Contents



Hobbes from Leviathan

Critical Essay: Sharon A. Lloyd, Public Reason in Hobbes

Locke from Second Treatise of Government,

A Letter Concerning Toleration 

Critical Essay: Gerald F. Gaus, Locke’s Liberal Theory of Public Reason

Rousseau from A Discourse on Political Economy,

The Social Contract  

Critical Essay: Christopher Bertram, Rousseau on Public Reason 

Kant from The Science of Right,

The Principles of Political Right Considered in Common with the Relation of Theory to Practice in the Right of the State,

Perpetual Peace,

What is Enlightenment? 

Critical Essay: Oliver Sensen, Kant on Public Reason



Hume Critical Essay: Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, Hume’s Theory of Public Reason

Hegel Critical Essay: Kenneth R. Westphal, The Centrality of Public Reason in Hegel’s Moral Philosophy 

Bentham Critical Essay: Gerald J. Postema, Jeremy Bentham: Theorist of Publicity

Mill Critical Essay: Piers Norris Turner, Social Morality in Mill

About the Editors

Piers Norris Turner is Associate Professor of Philosophy and (by courtesy) Political Science at Ohio State University. A co-editor of Karl Popper, After The Open Society: Selected Social and Political Writings (2008), his articles on John Stuart Mill’s moral and political philosophy have appeared in a number of leading journals, including Ethics and the Journal of the History of Philosophy.

Gerald Gaus is the James E. Rogers Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona. Among his books are The Order of Public Reason (2011), On Philosophy, Politics and Economics (2008), Justificatory Liberalism (1996), and Value and Justification (1990). His most recent book is The Tyranny of the Ideal (2016). He was a founding editor of the journal Politics, Philosophy, and Economics and, with Fred D’Agostino, edited The Routledge Companion to Social and Political Philosophy (2013).

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