Deliberative Democracy, Diversity, and Restraint


Public reason liberals disagree about the relationship between public justification and deliberative democracy. My goal is to argue against the recent suggestion that public reason liberals seek a ‘divorce’ from deliberative democracy. Defending this thesis will involve discussing the benefits of deliberation for public justification as well as revisiting public reason’s standard Rawlisan restraint requirement. I criticize Kevin Vallier’s alternative convergence-based principle of restraint and respond to the worry that the standard Rawlsian restraint requirement reduces the likelihood of public justification by limiting the diversity of inputs into the justificatory process.

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  1. 1.

    Rawls (2005, p. 448). See also Cohen (1997, p. 72); Freeman (2000, p. 377); Quong (2011, pp. 256–260); and Schwartzman (2011, pp. 381–382).

  2. 2.

    There is a general discussion of majority rule at Rawls (1999, pp. 313–318).

  3. 3.

    For concerns about institutionalizing this standard, see especially Gaus and Van Schoelandt (2017, pp. 167–171).

  4. 4.

    I do not suggest that decisions are legitimate only if they are in fact correct according to some standard independent of democratic procedures. Rather, the legitimacy of democracy depends on aiming at getting things right, according to such standards (Estlund 2008, p. 102; Landemore 2013, p. 219).

  5. 5.

    Providing necessary and sufficient conditions for what counts as a ‘public’ reason, or a relevant justifying (or defeater) reason for public justification, is obviously a matter of controversy among public reason liberals. Here I stipulate what I believe to be the most plausible account, though I have not provided a defense of it.

  6. 6.

    In my view, reasons are accessible when they can be meaningfully evaluated in light of standards shared by citizens generally, such as reliable perception and observation, rules of inference, common sense, scientific methodology and evidence, quantitative reasoning, jurisprudential reasoning, historical evidence, and shared democratic political values. I assume that some degree of idealization must be associated with categorizing reasons as accessible, so that reasons are accessible to citizens with at least modestly developed capacities to evaluate evidence of this sort. For a contrasting view that rejects any idealization as part of accessibility, see Laborde (2017, p. 121). For a convergence conception of moderate idealization that rejects the accessibility standard altogether, see Vallier (2014, pp. 145–180).

  7. 7.

    Gaus expresses doubts about whether, given its assumptions, the Hong-Page model could be applied to disagreements about justice among persons with diverse evaluative standpoints (2016, pp. 114–131).

  8. 8.

    I have assumed but not defended the claim that scientific reasoning is generally accessible. For discussion see Leland and van Wietmarschen (2012) and Jønch-Clausen and Kappel (2016).

  9. 9.

    These considerations are part of a general argument against democracy in Brennan (2016).


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Boettcher, J. Deliberative Democracy, Diversity, and Restraint. Res Publica 26, 215–235 (2020).

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  • Public reason
  • Deliberative democracy
  • Public justification
  • Liberalism