Philosophical Studies

, Volume 132, Issue 2, pp 243–291 | Cite as

Reciprocity and Reasonable Disagreement: From Liberal to Democratic Legitimacy

  • David A. Reidy


At the center of Rawls’s work post-1980 is the question of how legitimate coercive state action is possible in a liberal democracy under conditions of reasonable disagreement. And at the heart of Rawls’s answer to this question is his liberal principle of legitimacy. In this paper I argue that once we attend carefully to the depth and range of reasonable disagreement, Rawls’s liberal principle of legitimacy turns out to be either wildly utopian or simply toothless, depending on how one reads the ideal of reciprocity it is meant to embody. To remedy this defect in Rawls’s theory, I␣undertake to develop the outlines of a democratic conception of legitimacy, drawing first on Rawls’s generic conception of legitimacy in The Law of Peoples and second on a revised understanding of reciprocity between free and equal citizens. On this revised understanding, what free and equal citizens owe one another is not reciprocity in judgment, but reciprocity of interests.


Liberal Democracy Public Reason Political Liberalism Social Cooperation Reasonable Disagreement 
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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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