Hobbes’s challenge to public reason liberalism: Public reason and religious convictions in Leviathan

Gerald Gaus

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

7 Scopus citations


Contemporary Public Reason Liberalism and the Shared Reasons Doctrine The dominant contemporary account of liberalism is aptly called “public reason liberalism.” Public reason liberalism, most notably in the work of John Rawls, takes as its starting point the reasonable diversity of conceptions of the good life and the valuable, as well as differences in metaphysical beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality, and the place of humans in the scheme of things. At the heart of public reason liberalism is the conviction that, if all are to be treated as free and equal persons, the justification of the political order cannot presuppose the truth of one such reasonable doctrine over its competitors. To treat another as a free and equal person requires that he is not subjected to terms of political association that are justifiable only in terms that, as a reasonable moral person, he cannot endorse. Now there are two (not necessarily incompatible) ways for public reason liberalism to meet this requirement. Public reason may be understood as what is endorsed by the reason of all The reason of all endorses the liberal political order if each, reasoning on the basis of her reasonable conceptions of value, metaphysics and so on, has her own reasons to affirm the liberal order. In this case, while the liberal order does not depend on the truth of one such reasonable doctrine over its competitors, its justification can draw on the truth claims of a variety of reasonable doctrines. Public reason, however, also can be understood as the shared reason of all Here the public reason liberal seeks to prescind from reasonable disputes about metaphysical, religious, and ethical truth by grounding the liberal order on a set of reasons that all citizens share. Again, the justification of the political order does not require endorsing one controversial doctrine over others, but now the aim is to refrain from any appeal to controversial doctrines. Whereas the first view holds that a political order that appeals to a variety of controversial doctrines treats all as free and equal so long as each finds her own justifying reasons in doctrines she holds to be true or justified, the second (i.e., the shared reasons view) insists that only reasons that everyone finds uncontroversial can justify.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHobbes Today
Subtitle of host publicationInsights for the 21st Century
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781139047388
ISBN (Print)9781107000599
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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