Conflicts on Public Reason

Giovanni Cogliandro – University of Rome Tor Vergata
Yishai Mishor – Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

The concept of public reason has been used in contemporary debates both as an instrument to promote ideals of good life, and as a warrant against ideals of good life. This panel invites contributions from both points of view. 

The workshop is aimed to analyse the tension between competing contemporary conceptions of public reason, with a peculiar focus on the interactions between political theory and legal philosophy. Within this debate, we will try also to assess the influence of the different declinations of liberal perfectionism on the activity of both governing officials and judges. The following is a non-exhaustive illustration of tensions we would suggest to discuss.

One of the shared features of the idea of public reason after recent debates between, among others, Gerald Gaus, David Enoch and Jonathan Quong, is a normative argument against allowing appellate courts to settle political questions (see Waldron, 2014). This could also be intended as a progress beyond the Rawlsian paradigm of the Supreme Court as the Forum of public reason.

Crossing the border between legal theory and political philosophy, another approach suggests that Rawls’ ideal of public reason applies to officials when they engage in political advocacy in a public forum; it also governs the decisions that officials make. This is not the case in Shapiro’s theory, where legal interpretation is a shared activity of officials and having no connections to political normative considerations it has to be restricted to social facts, as the unique truth-makers of positive laws. This complete distrust of deliberative democracy and public reason is aimed to fail, as was recently suggested by Greenberg (2014) and Coleman (2011), arguing from different perspectives on the necessity of changing and expanding the notion of a legal fact and legal architecture.

The ideal of deliberation through communicative shared understanding was recently revisited with the criticism of Dworkin’s metaphor of the Chain Novel by Brandom (2013). This anti-skeptic vision goes well beyond the theory of judges and justice developed by Dworkin. A status instituted by recognition of officials is itself being recognised in yet other respects by the citizens. The claim is that specific kinds of normative institution are only intelligible against a background provided by the most fundamental kind of discursive normativity, which is essentially a matter of reciprocal recognition.

We welcome submissions on these issues and on related topics.
Abstracts should be 500-1,000 words, prepared for blind review and suitable for a 30-40 minute presentation. Please send your abstract and contact details to and, by 31 of May. Decision will be made by 16 of June.