Acceptability: reason-giving vs. reasons

I have some questions about Estlund’s account of acceptability conditions on reasons (in public reasoning).  Here is the first one.

(1) Acceptability conditions make sense as conditions on the reasons that it is appropriate or permitted to give to each other (aside from whether they are good or true).  However, I think Estlund means for these conditions to apply to what reasons are appropriate even in private reasoning (when one is reasoning about when the state is permitted to coerce its citizens).  But why would the former imply the latter? Why should standards governing giving reasons to others speak to the appropriateness of a reason (distinct from its goodness or truth) in any kind of good reasoning? This seems almost like a category mistake of some kind.  

Maybe there is a kind of good reasoning that is defined or modelled on good discussion or interpersonal giving and taking of reasons? That works schematically, but would need to be fleshed out and argued for. Is this a genuine problem/lacuna in Estlund’s account or am I misunderstanding or missing something?  Or maybe I’m right and I’m just missing an easy way to make the inference go through?

2 thoughts on “Acceptability: reason-giving vs. reasons

    • I don’t think he does explicitly. However, I took his use of ‘political justification’ to imply this (e.g., p. 43).

      After thinking about this some more, I do think I was missing a somewhat-obvious inferential move. However, I still think it would have been good for Estlund to be more explicit in making the move. In a nutshell, here is the move: there being respect-for-conscience-related moral strictures on what reasons one is allowed to insist that others accept in the public give-and-take of reasons implies working adequate compliance with this stricture (as well as, Estlund would stress, some degree of epistemic competence or virtue) into a mental model of how public reasoning should go and what the likely conclusion is when it goes as it should.

      Here is a schematic case. Suppose we are deciding on a general rule for the age of sexual consent in our society. I might (privately) ask myself (1) What is the objectively best general rule for the age of sexual consent (for people like us)? I come to answer this question by reasoning through a certain set of topic-centered or merit-based considerations (facts about sexual maturity, brain maturity, age difference, power difference, etc.). Our coming to a consensus on this matter or not (or how we do or should come to consensus) is irrelevant to the truth or falsity of, say, ‘the proper age of sexual consent for our society is 17 years old’.

      However, I could also (privately) ask myself a different question: (2) What is the the best mutually-respectful consensus that people like us could come to regarding the appropriate age of consent for sexual contact in our society (given that whatever rule we decide on will be coercively enforced by the state, given that we have various relevant beliefs of conscience that demand respect, given that we are obliged not to insist that others reject their beliefs of conscience)? I come to answer this question by imagining how people might reason together well assuming both a certain level of rationality and adequate compliance with the ethical rule that, given the context of coercive state enforcement, one is forbidden from violating the conscience of others in the give-and-take of reasons. I might, as part of this ideal model, imagine how my own relevantly good public reason-giving and reason-uptake would go – and this likely would not track my straight-up good reasoning on the topic (and might well yield a different conclusion as well).

      I think I got stuck stupidly imagining that, somehow, it being the case that we are obliged to treat each other in a certain way in the public give-and-take of reasons implied some alternative kind of “good reasoning” on the normative topic (that strangely had one omitting perfectly good reasons). But this is wrong. The distinctive reasoning is reasoning about how a relevantly virtuous consensus on the normative topic would go – as a step to addressing another normative topic, that of when the state is permitted to coerce its citizens – not some alternative way of reasoning about the topic (with one logical hand tied behind one’s back). And of course a consensus that meets the relevant ethical ideal might omit some perfectly good reasons and include some bad reasons too.

      (Getting straighter on these issues in political justification – I think! – helps me see some things about political liberalism and about Estlund’s version of it. One of the things that is distinctive to political liberalism, I think, is that we answer questions of the legitimacy of state coercion by answering questions about a consensus on the topic at hand that meets certain ethical standards (specifically, people abiding by the obligation not to ask anyone to accept something that goes against their beliefs of conscience, at least in most cases, when the stakes are who is to be coerced by the state and under what conditions). Estlund, in various ways, despite agreeing with this idea, insists that not all elements in political justification broadly construed do or could go like this. The relevantly virtuous consensus needs to exhibit some considerable degree of epistemic competence or virtue as well – otherwise, state coercion is not permitted. No relevantly virtuous consensus required here, just the not-consensus-related normative upshot of epistemic competence. Some beliefs (and hence objections) based on conscience are not due the normally-requisite respect on straight-up grounds of bad faith, moral perfidy, etc. Again, no relevantly virtuous consensus required, just the facts about bad faith, moral perfidy, etc. These elements in political justification broadly construed are closer to answering a question like [1] (about what is normative correct or best) than they are to answering a question like [2] (about what a relevantly virtuous consensus would conclude about what is normatively correct or best).)

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