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
PART 1: PUBLIC REASON IN SOCIAL CONTRACT THEORY
Hobbes from Leviathan
Critical Essay: Sharon A. Lloyd, Public Reason in HobbesLocke 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,
What is Enlightenment?
Critical Essay: Oliver Sensen, Kant on Public Reason
PART 2: PUBLIC REASON IN BROADER HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Hume Critical Essay: Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, Hume’s Theory of Public ReasonHegel 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