The Order of Public Reason
A Theory of Freedom and Morality in a Diverse and Bound World
Cambridge University Press 2010
If we are to have a society at all, it seems that we must recognize and abide by certain rules concerning our interactions with others. And in recognizing such rules, we must take ourselves to sometimes be authorized to hold others accountable to them. Perhaps it is also the case that we must recognize that states have the authority to enforce the rules. It has long been the aim of liberal democratic political theory to show that there is a form of social authority which is consistent with the intrinsic freedom and moral equality of all persons. Of course, there is plenty of room for skepticism. In fact, the skepticism goes back at least to Plato’s Republic: Maybe all social norms, all moral prescriptions, and all political rules are simply cases of some (the powerful, the clever, or the experts) pushing others around? In his new book, The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom and Morality in a Diverse and Bounded World (Cambridge University Press, 2010), Gerald Gaus attempts to dispel the skepticism.
Drawing upon empirical and conceptual considerations from a wide range of disciplines, Gaus argues that social rules and the authority to enforce them emerge out of everyday social interactions and are supported by healthy emotional and dispositional states. We treat each other as free and equal moral persons when we recognize only those social rules which each individual has reason to accept and internalize. In this way, authority is consistent with the freedom and equality of all because properly exercised authority is always aimed at reminding individuals what they already have moral reasons to do. If Gaus is right, The Order of Public Reason solves a long-standing and fundamental problem of moral and political philosophy.