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Public Reason and Public Policy: the Need for Epistemic Realism in Political Argument

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posted on 2022-12-14, 16:56 authored by James D. Rinn
This paper examines the concept of public reason, the regime of principles and rules under which political argument in a liberal-democratic society should be conducted. It examines the two most prominent accounts of public reason: John Rawls’, which derives rules of public reason from a presumed duty of mutual respect, and Jurgen Habermas’, which begins with the premise that communication is a necessary condition for knowledge. It then answers subjectivist objections to public reason, and concludes that public reason is ultimately defined and upheld by a shared commitment to epistemic realism: the understanding that we inhabit a shared world made up of mind-independent objects that can be known by all members of that shared world. The paper then examines the Canadian citizenry’s willingness and capacity to engage in public reason and the government’s ability to facilitate it, and concludes that in the absence of political will or a pre-existing culture of public reason, the burden of promoting and sustaining it will fall to organized and motivated sub-sectors of civil society. Keywords: Public Reason, Public Policy, Rawls, Habermas, Political Knowledge, Civil Society





Master of Arts


Public Policy and Administration

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type