Public Reason Between Ethics and Law

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Rawls says that public reason is the reason of the citizens of a democratic state and takes the Supreme Court in the USA as the exemplar of public reason. It differs from non public reason, which is used e. g., in universities and academic institutions. Rawls contrasts with Kant, which opposes the public reason of the scholar-or the philosopher-, who speaks before the world, to the private reason of state or church officials. The later, once they accept an authority, cannot think by themselves (selbst denken). A closer examination shows that Rawls is not so far from Kant as it seems, because he takes the constitutional judges not as they are, but as they should be. However Rawls still apparently refuses Kant's unity of reason. Further investigation of the relations between ethical reason, democratic reason and legal reason is needed. Democratic reason is tantamount both to public reason and to legal reason in a modern constitutional state. It is a requirement of ethics but still not identical with ethical reason, since it is possible to accept democratic reason and to argue against it from an ethical point of view. There is just one good way of reasoning, in spite of the constraints that the sources of law and the rules of procedure impose on legal reasoning, compared with ethics. Such constraints are based on the democratic principle, which is again based on ethical reason, which at last both grounds and limits the constraints that law imposes on reason.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-472
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal for the Semiotics of Law
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


  • Argumentation
  • Democracy
  • Ethics
  • Law
  • Public reason


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