Michael Baur


Rawls, Constitutional Theory, Politics, Citizenship, Democrazy


In this Essay, I examine some apparent difficulties with what I call the "actualization criterion" connected to Rawls's notion of public reason, that is, the criterion for determining when Rawlsian public reason is concretely actualized by citizens in their deliberating and deciding about constitutional essentials and matters of basic justice. While these apparent difficulties have led some commentators to reject Rawlsian public reason altogether, I offer an interpretation that might allow Rawlsian public reason to escape the difficulties. My reading involves the claim that Rawlsian public reason is to be understood essentially as an imperative or an ideal, and as not necessarily grounded in any stock of existing beliefs or opinions. I make this claim on the basis of the seemingly counterintuitive observation that it is possible for citizen-interlocutors to know that public reason has been violated without necessarily knowing who the violator is (and thus without being able to foreclose the possibility that the violator may even be oneself). This observation is based in turn on my analysis of the necessary reciprocity and self-referentiality built in to the very concept of public reason as such.

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