Philosophy and Social Criticism 35 (7):841-868 (2009)

The article addresses the debate that has arisen in the wake of John Rawls’ political theory, in particular his concept of the ‘use of public reason’. Such a concept is crucial because it involves all his fundamental presuppositions about reason, publicity, legitimacy and the liberal subject that sustain his theory of justice. In this article we will mainly doubt Rawls’ Kantian origins in favour of Kant’s own thinking about reason and publicity. Initially then, we will critically present an account of Rawls’ conception of (public) reason, and then turn to Kant in order to argue for a non-constructivist reading. This will be based on the importance of reason’s non-empirical need [Bedürfnis ], instead of Rawls’ empirical conception of it. Such a thing would constitute the basis for Kant’s non-instrumental conception of publicity as an a priori condition of our freedom, which would also have room for a positive role for dissent rather than mere consent (built into Rawls’ principle of liberal legitimacy). According to Kant, there is a juridical right based on reason’s need. In the end, it is concluded that the two thinkers have differing views on both the nature of human reason, and the nature of publicity at the basis of modern societies, a fact that might also be the beginning for the strengthening of Kant’s modern republicanism rather than liberalism
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DOI 10.1177/0191453709106244
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