The Stability of a Reasonable Political Order

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This two-part work describes the governmental virtue of reasonableness and defends the possibility of a stable and reasonable political order. More precisely, it defends the claim that by evincing reasonableness, some political orders, or systems of governmental custom and law, realistically could obtain citizens’ stable support. Part One gives a unified account of the reasonableness of actions, persons, and institutions. It begins with general reflection upon whether governmental virtue is worth discussing and how it could be identified. It then reviews several accounts of the virtue of reasonableness, ultimately defending the following account: that reasonableness consists of conscientiously distributed, favorable responsiveness toward (purported) reasons that interacting parties justifiably believe would be offered in good faith, were they to discuss their (purported) reasons with each other. This account rejects three ideas endorsed in the literature: that treating others reasonably requires treating them in line with justifications that are acceptable from their own perspectives, that it is not unreasonable for us to decline to treat others reasonably when they are unwilling to exhibit reasonableness toward us, and that empathy is at the core of reasonableness. Part Two addresses John Rawls’s famous problem of how a liberal, democratic political order could obtain stable support, given that such an order is bound to result in ideological pluralism. This second part argues that the citizens of a pluralistic society would not firmly commit themselves to the Rawlsian account of justice or any other specific account of justice. (To state this with Rawlsian jargon: it is unrealistic to hope for an “overlapping consensus” on any particular view of justice.) The dissertation then proposes that a democratic political order could achieve stable allegiance by evincing a tendency toward reasonable governance – that is, governance performed so as to realize well-being and justice on subjects’ diverse terms. Rulers are advised to govern reasonably by making room for several different moral conceptions in a society’s customs and laws. They could do this by promoting a culture of neighborliness between citizens; by facilitating the recognition of group rights; and, in response to especially intractable, pervasive, and geographically delineated disagreement, by permitting considerable regional autonomy. While these proposals allow governance to aim at promoting the good, they are not perfectionist, for they encourage the promotion of a plurality of opposing conceptions of the good. Nor do they advocate neutrality: reasonable governance need not preclude favoring some conceptions of the good over others in the society as a whole.

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virtue; Philosophy; Ethics; political stability; reasonableness


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Miller, Richard William

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Sturgeon, Nicholas Lee
Pereboom, Derk

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Ph.D., Philosophy

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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