Mark Redhead, Complimenting rivals: Foucault, Rawls and the problem of public reasoning, Philosophy Social Criticism February 16, 2015
This article pursues two questions: Can one use Foucault’s later writings on parrhesia and Kant to create a Foucaldian approach to public reason? If so, what lessons might those attracted to John Rawls’ well-known model of public reason draw from a Foucaldian orientation? By putting Foucault into a competitive yet productive relationship with Rawls, this article addresses some of the latter’s shortcomings. In doing so it also makes a larger argument about the need to develop approaches to democratic deliberation that involve engagement with – rather than simple toleration and/or accommodation of – the various ‘reasonable’ ethical commitments deliberators, on some fundamental level, reason in light of. The justificatory aims of public reason are best achieved when participants’ most-cherished beliefs are opened to critical dialogue rather than banished to the realm of the ‘non-political’. The article begins by briefly illuminating the salient features of Rawls’ model of public reasoning as well as three problems that ensue with the limitations it places on discourses regulated by public reason. It then attempts to distill a Foucaldian approach to public reason by briefly discussing 4 elements of Foucault’s later work on Rawls’ philosophical godfather Kant together with several features of the antiquarian studies of parrhesia that Foucault was conducting at the time these Kantian works were written. Third, Jeffrey Stout’s recent account of theistic democratic actors in some of the most economically disadvantaged US localities demonstrates how many of the ideals integral to this Foucaldian approach to public reasoning built on engaging (rather than simply tolerating and/or accommodating) contrasting ethical perspectives are central to some concrete practices of public reasoning. It concludes with some thoughts on the necessity of publicly reasoning through rather than independently of our deepest commitments.