10.1177/0090591703252160ARTICLEPOLITICAL THEORY / February 2004von Rautenfeld / CHARITABLE INTERPRETATIONS
EMERSON'S LEGACY FOR LIBERAL THOUGHT
CHARITABLE INTERPRETATIONSEmerson, Rawls, and Cavell onthe Use of Public Reason
RAUTENFELDUniversity of South Carolina John Rawls offers an account of public reason that argues that comprehensive doctrines areadmissibleintopublicdeliberationsoffundamentalpoliticalmattersonlywhentheyareusedtosay things that can also be said on the basis of the noncomprehensive liberal political values of freedom and equality. This essay argues that elements of comprehensive doctrines ought to beallowed into public reason even when those elements cannot be translated into the terms of lib-eral political values. It draws on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s conception of communicationamongcitizensandStanleyCavell’sinterpretationofEmersonianmoralperfectionismtodevelopacon-ceptionofpublicreasonthatallowsagreaterrangeofviewsheldbycitizenstoplayalegitimaterole in democratic deliberations. An Emersonian conception of liberal democracy differs from Rawls’sinthatitmoreexplicitlyviewsthedemocraticcommunityasactivelyengagedincontinu-ally revising and perfecting the liberal political values of freedom and equality.
John Rawls; Stanley Cavell; R. W. Emerson; public sphere; public reason; civilsociety
owhatextentcanaliberaldemocracyaccommodatepoliticalargumentsbased on religious, philosophical, or moral comprehensive doctrines? Towhatextentcanthose who affirmsuch comprehensivedoctrines “hold area-sonable political conception of justice that supports a constitutional demo-cratic society?”
, and again in “The Idea of Public
AUTHOR’SNOTE: Anearlierversionofthisessaywaspresentedatthe2002annualmeetingof the Western Political Science Association. I am grateful to Laurie E. Naranch, Gary Shiffman,TracyB.Strong, StephenK. White, andtwo anonymousreaders for this journalfor their helpfulcomments and questions.
POLITICAL THEORY, Vol. 32 No. 1, February 2004 61-84DOI: 10.1177/0090591703252160© 2004 Sage Publications