Public Reason as an identifiable signal --On how the consensus conception of public reason solves the assurance problem, and how the convergence conception fails
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AbstractThe key of achieving stability in a pluralistic democratic society is to solve the assurance problem. Citizens who desire to act justly want to assure that their fellow citizens will act justly as well. Political liberals usually solve the assurance problem by a consensus conception of public reason. (Rawls 2005, Weithman 2010) When citizens offer shared public reasons, they signal to others that they are faithful to a political conception of justice. However, recently a number of political theorists, who endorse a convergence conception of public reason, challenge the effectiveness of the consensus conception as an assurance mechanism (Gaus 2011, Thrasher and Vallier 2015, Kogelmann and Stich 2016). One of their critiques is that public reason cannot avoid the problem of cheap talk. Cheap talk means a costless communication that does not affect the payoffs of a game. Public reason is supposed to be a costly communication. However, in a well-ordered society, citizens are knowledgeable about public reasons. The cost of offering public reason is thus negligible. Citizens cannot ensure the commitment of others in the action of offering public reason. Therefore, public reason becomes a kind of cheap talk and fails to provide assurance among citizens.

Our article defends political liberalism and argues that these critics misunderstand the true cost imposed on citizens. The true cost does not lie in the action of offering public reason, but rather lie in the action of not offering non-public reason. Suppose Alf is a religious Catholic and he strongly believes that God forbids abortion, but Alf controls himself to not express his religious beliefs publicly and turns to use public reason to communicate with Betty. This psychological burden is a cost publicly shown to Betty. Therefore, citizens ensure each other’s commitment by observing each other’s self-restriction in the political domain.

Furthermore, our article introduces empirical evidences to show that, even if public reason is truly a kind of cheap talk, the consensus conception can still solve the assurance problem. The critics wrongly think that assurance is provided only when citizens are able to offer costly signals. Yet we argue that the cost of signal is largely irrelevant. What matters is whether citizens can offer identifiable signal. The paper makes use of the findings of social psychologists Martin Tanis and Tom Postemes (2005) to explore the relationship between identifiable signal and social trust. According to their findings, when people decide whether they should trust others in large-scale interactions, they do not calculate the benefits and costs of what happens if others preserve or violate the trust. Rather, their decisions are based on whether others share common membership of a salient social group. Trust will be granted if others are identified as in-group members, otherwise not. We then argue that, despite low cost, public reason serves as a useful signal for citizens to identify whether others are reasonable (in-group members) or unreasonable (out-group members). This facilitates citizens to ensure the allegiance of each other and thus stabilizes the pluralistic society.
Acceptance Date09/03/2018
All Author(s) ListBaldwin Wong
Name of ConferenceEuropean Consortium of Political Research General Conference 2018
Start Date of Conference22/08/2018
End Date of Conference25/08/2018
Place of ConferenceHamburg
Country/Region of ConferenceGermany
Year2018
LanguagesEnglish-United States

Last updated on 2018-25-10 at 10:17