Free Public Reason: Making it up as We Go

Free Public Reason: Making it up as We Go

Free Public Reason: Making it up as We Go

Free Public Reason: Making it up as We Go


Free Public Reason examines the idea of public justification, stressing its importance but also questioning the coherence of the concept itself. Although public justification is employed in the work of theorists such as John Rawls, Jeremy Waldron, Thomas Nagel, and others, it has received little attention on its own as a philosophical concept. In this book Fred D'Agostino shows that the concept is composed of various values, interests, and notions of the good, and that no ranking of these is possible. The notion of public justification itself is thus shown to be contestable. In demonstrating this, D'Agostino undermines many current political theories that rely on this concept. Having broken down the foundations of public justification, D'Agostino then offers an alternative model of how a workable consensus on its meaning might be reached through the interactions of a community of interpreters or delegates at a constitutional convention.


The essence of the liberal ideal . . . is its commitment to a form of power which is 'horizontal' and reciprocal rather than 'vertical' and managerial . . .

Stephen macedo, Liberal Virtues

The contents of this book were puzzled out and then written down during and immediately after a two-year spell as Associate Dean of Arts at the University of New England. During this time, many changes to university administration were implemented. Foremost among these was the substitution of the 'new managerialism' for age-old democratic principles and practices. the notion of 'line management' displaced collegiality. Deans of faculties, for instance, were now meant to be conduits between higher level 'bosses' and lower level 'workers', transmitting commands from above to below and 'feedback' from below to above. Obviously, this understanding of university administration is totally at odds with the recommendations made here for the administration of public political life. in the academic world, 'traditional' communities of interpreters, like those described in Chapter 9, are now increasingly replaced by highly stratified societies of self-styled experts on the one hand and under-resourced under-laborers on the other.

I mention these circumstances for two reasons. First, they are worthy of comment in their own right. It cannot be guaranteed, if present trends are consolidated, that the university will long survive as an embodiment of democracy. Second, though, is an autobiographical possibility -- that my thinking about the question of public justification has been influenced by these developments and by my (largely ineffectual) involvement in resistance to them. It is, of course, notoriously difficult, and in any event probably unprofitable, to inquire too closely into the secret springs of even such limited creativity as may be manifest on the pages that follow. I nevertheless probably have this much to be thankful for. My experiences in dealing with and opposing the 'new managerialism' convinced me more than ever of the inestimable value of our democratic institutions and thus invigorated the reflections reported here.

One comment on the text. As readers are sure to notice, I have used a great many quotations. I hope this will not be disturbing or undermine the reader's confidence in my own powers of thought, limited as these may be. I have used a great many quotations as an expression, stylistically, of a substantive point I am very concerned to make -- that all thought is a collective enterprise and profits from being recognized as such -- or, as Benjamin Barber puts it (The Conquest of Politics, p. 210), "the individual is foolish, the multitude wise." of course, an individual has had to . . .

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