maybe bad reasons are just bad (political justification)

Consider:  

Religious Tolerance:  Governments are morally forbidden from (i) enforcing religious tenets on their citizens that are not the religious tenets of those citizens (or requiring of them sworn allegiance to such tenets) and (ii) forcing its citizens to say or do things that contradict their religious tenets (if they have such).

On this view, the truth or falsity of some of our conclusions about permissible government coercion depend on whether or not people have religious beliefs according to which what they would be coerced into doing would be a sin.  And the landscape of relevant or good reasons is similarly relativized to such religious belief, at least in this way: that one would be forced to commit something that one views as a sin comes to be a controlling reason against a proposed law, at least generally outweighing what would otherwise — from a neutral or objective or apart-from-what-religious-beliefs-people-have perspective — be sufficient or decisive reasons in favor of the law.  

However, since what does the normative work here is the belief-state not the belief-content, I don’t see that false propositions come to be reasons in the relevant logical sense.  And I don’t see how the relevant justification or reasoning comes to be governed by reasons being “acceptable,” or not where acceptability has little to do with evidence, logic, truth or otherwise with the reasons being good reasons.

We do get an evaluative standard that cross-cuts goodness in reasons (and justification) if we take Religious Tolerance (or its grounds) to imply some plausible things about how we are to respect each other in debate (in the giving and taking of reasons) about when government coercion is permitted.  Maybe if you hold a belief in a dogmatically religious way, I’m in some cases obligated not to simply contradict that belief or “steamroll” you with all of the reasons why what you believe is silly. Of course, in the business of giving and taking of reasons with other persons, there are pragmatic considerations that make it inappropriate or unacceptable morally (or otherwise) for me to press perfectly (evidentially) good reasons on you.  Or that make it appropriate or acceptable to give you some (evidentially) bad or phony reasons (maybe ones that will have some chance of swaying you to a position that is in fact conclusively supported by relevant reasons, some of which are not available to you due to ignorance or bias). I’m doubtful, but you might get an acceptability standard with the sort of content Estlund wants (as well as the right form) from the context of political debate and the same broad considerations that support Religious Toleration (and the generalized form of it that we might call Doctrine Toleration).

However, in drawing implications about “acceptability requirements” in political justification in general from Religious Tolerance and Doctrine Tolerance, I don’t think Estlund is appealing to the ethics of discussion and debate.  (I’ve changed my interpretation here.) I think he is appealing to the idea that the circumstance of what we take our obligations to be contributes, in the decisive way suggested by Religious Tolerance, to the truth or falsity of relevant propositions about government coercion.  And hence to the landscape of reasons (and their weighting) for getting at the truth in such situations. If this is right though, things look bad for acceptability requirements as I think Estlund is thinking of them (DEMOCRATIC AUTHORITY, especially Ch. 3, p. 43 “The Idea of Acceptability”).  But maybe there is something that I am overlooking.

 

20 thoughts on “maybe bad reasons are just bad (political justification)

  1. “I think he is appealing to the idea that the circumstance of what we take our obligations to be contributes, in the decisive way suggested by Religious Tolerance, to the truth or falsity of relevant propositions about government coercion.”

    I think I don’t understand this. That is, I don’t think I understand the difference. I take it that the appeal is to some sort of moral consideration broader than the ethics of conversation and debate. But I don’t understand the idea that the circumstance of what we take our obligations to b contributes to the truth or falsity of propositions about government coercion. Can you flesh that out a bit more?

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    • To use an example, the idea is that, if I take it to be a sin to help a woman get an abortion (say, by providing employee insurance that covers this), then this fact – my religious conviction – makes it the case that the government is not permitted to force me to provide that kind of health insurance for my employees. If I did not have this religious conviction, then it might not be the case that the government is thus prohibited from making me provide such insurance (and we might suppose that it would not be thus prohibited; perhaps considerations of providing some level of basic opportunity for every citizen would otherwise suffice for the government being permitted to require that I provide such insurance). Does that help?

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      • Ok, I see; the idea is simpler than I was imagining.

        I’d take this sort of consideration to be distinct from the sort of reasons we might take ourselves to have to be respectful in debate. The latter reasons are too closely tied up with the purposes of (genuine, sincere) debate to have any bearing on coercion, let alone government coercion. One might think instead that in the government coercion cases, the relevant consideration is respect for other people’s conscience: we should not compel people to act contrary to their own deep, settled convictions about serious matters. I have some sympathies for that idea, but it’s easy to make it yield apparently absurd results. So we need some sort of account of the conditions and limits of respect for conscience, else we’ll end up moral hostages to other people’s convictions, even the thoroughly ridiculous ones. One of my disappointments with Estlund’s book is that he seems to need some sort of principle at least roughly like this, yet he doesn’t really defend it or elaborate it, and so it’s pretty hard to assess everything else that depends on it.

        It seems easy to defend religious toleration by appeal to respect for conscience so long as we focus on religion as a set of beliefs and ritual practices, because even if the beliefs and practices are utterly irrational, they don’t seem to involve any harm to others, at least as such. But some religious defenders of freedom of conscience insist, quite rightly I think, that social and even political action is central to many religious traditions, and it distorts those traditions to draw a sharp boundary between belief and ritual practice on the one hand and social and political action on the other. Something like providing health insurance that covers abortion provides a good example. Of course one might just think that this case should be covered by the principle of respect for conscience. But then one should probably be a minimal statist or anarchist.

        I’m not sure quite what you think makes this sort of thinking problematic for Estlundian acceptability requirements. Is it just that, from within this respect-for-conscience framework, there’s not much work for the idea of acceptable reasons to do?

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        • Applied, as Estlund wants it, to political justification (that might just happen in your or my head or in the abstract world of propositions), the respect-for-conscience framework yields precisely nothing. What reasons are good and the relative weighting of reasons shifts in the salient circumstances of violating someone’s conscience via government coercion. There are no separate standards of acceptability that apply (that might either screen off otherwise good reasons or allow otherwise bad reasons to be used and have weight). Acceptability standards (if you want to call them that and this does accord with intuitive usage) apply to the giving and receiving of reasons in interpersonal deliberation, as part of the ethics of interpersonal deliberation.

          Here’s a case to show how these two things come apart. Suppose that we have a worked-out, justified, true respect-for-conscience framework. And suppose that it tells us that respect for conscience shields the pastor from being required to marry gay folks but not the pharmacist from filling out prescriptions for abortifacient. This concerns how convictions of conscience (the circumstance of people having them) do and do not block government permission to coerce. But it might be that I am ethically obligated, for example, not recite the case against the pharmacist being shielded in jack-hammer-like fashion until she is in tears or ready to gouge my eyes out.

          Though we might imagine a normative standard doing the work that Estlund wants (allowing in bad reasons, disallowing good reasons in certain ways in political justification), at least in the intuitive sense of ‘acceptability’ acceptability does not do this work. So – to answer your question directly – again in this sense of ‘acceptability’, it is not that acceptability standards don’t do the work, rather it is that they can’t. I worry that Estlund has taken acceptability (or standards for ethics in interpersonal deliberation) to be something that it is not.

          Two more (somewhat self-indulgent) comments:

          (1) I’m at least tempted by the idea that the respect-for-conscience framework applies to all not-obviously-wicked religious-type convictions (considered pretty broadly, but not with all beliefs about what we are obligated to do counting) – right up to the point at which important elements of basic justice or the common interest are significantly threatened. That’s pretty libertarian – and perhaps unrealistically idealistic, especially given that, once you are at the point of threatening the public interest, as a matter of hard-to-change political reality in a democracy, the hammer comes right down on your head (panic, clampdown). In the right mood, I think this train takes us to a significantly-more-libertarian world, but not to a minimal-state world (filled, apparently, with all manner of quasi-religious zealots).

          (2) Of more importance for political justification and theory, I think, is the circumstance of stubborn disagreement about important matters (especially in a pluralistic society) and the particular justice and common-interest aims that need to be achieved coercively, through government. It seems that, quite apart from worries about trampling someone’s conscience, we need to do something like agree or come to acceptable-enough-to-all consensus in order to effectively achieve the aims of politics. Estlund sometimes seems to focus on this (slightly different) circumstance and (quite different) set of aims instead of the idea of respect for freedom of conscience. But, again, what we have here is a formally straight-forward case of an important circumstance significantly affecting the best way to achieve relevant aims (and hence the landscape of reasons) – not a practical application in the ethics of interpersonal deliberation. So, again, (pragmatic/moral) acceptability requirements are either inapt (speaking to the ethics of interpersonal deliberation) or some odd and under-motivated standard that mirrors these pragmatic/moral standards but somehow applies to reasoning itself, green-lighting some bad reasons (the ones that in the ethics of interpersonal deliberation it would be good to give) and booting out some good reasons (the ones that in the ethics of interpersonal deliberation it would be bad to give). This significance-of-disagreement-centered project in political and democratic theory should be carried forward, then, but not in terms of acceptability requirements.

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  2. I guess I disagree with your (Michael’s) framing of this issue. I have a lot of different thing to say, but not a lot of time, so I’ll just write in discrete comment-tidbits until my time runs out.

    My first problem is that your initial framing at the beginning of the post gives the impression that Estlund would endorse the principle of religious tolerance you cite. Part of your objection turns on the idea that a principle of specifically religious tolerance is ad hoc, as if to ask: “What’s so special about religion? That’s a legitimate objection to the principle as stated, but I don’t see the basis for it (or for the objection implicit in the rhetorical question) in Estlund’s view.

    Estlund’s characterization of acceptability requirements is not phrased in terms of religious tolerance at all. His claim is that truth is that neither necessary nor sufficient for the “admissibility” of a doctrine into ‘political justification. “The moral idea behind this principle is that no person can legitimately be coerced to abide by legal rules and arrangements unless sufficient reasons can be given that do not violate that person’s reasonable moral and philosophical convictions, true or false, right or wrong” (p. 43, near the bottom). On the next page, he gives us a a deliberately broad characterization of “doctrine.” Religious tolerance plays no essential role there.

    So I don’t see the motivation for introducing your objections to the principle of religious tolerance in terms of Estlund’s views. I don’t see the connection between the two things. Granted, he uses a religious example to convey the point he’s making (pp. 50-52), but the fact remains that acceptability is not defined in terms of religious tolerance.

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    • I’ve since run this material by Derek Bowman and he has set me straight on some stuff. So I’ll say some stuff that hopefully addresses significant bits of your stuff…

      (1) As is standard, Estlund frames political liberalism as an extension of “the liberal concern for freedom of conscience,” but I think the religious tolerance gloss is just as apt. However, what is really going on is something a bit different. A specific (and explanatorily deep) correct basis for religious tolerance is being articulated – and this is then seen to concern a wider class of phenomena and throw light on the right way to think about religious tolerance. Estlund’s statement of the basis for religious tolerance is what you quote from the bottom of p. 43: “No person can legitimately be coerced to abide by legal rules and arrangements unless sufficient reasons can be given that do not violate that person’s reasonable [qualified] moral and philosophical convictions, true or false, right or wrong.”

      The reference to giving reasons here suggests that this principle (which might just as well be put in terms of acceptability conditions or requirements and these ruling-in or ruling-out reasons at least somewhat independently of whether they are relevant, true, good, etc.) concerns the ethics of interpersonal deliberation – not political reasoning or justification itself. But Estlund clearly wants the latter. Perhaps there is some creative or simplifying ambiguity here with the word ‘justify’ (I can justify something to you, but also propositions/beliefs justify other propositions/beliefs). We might, to help Estlund out here, take the principle from the bottom of p. 43 to concern the ethics of interpersonal deliberation but then articulate an analogous principle that unambiguously refers to what counts as appropriate reasoning on the relevant topic.

      I find the claim about the ethics of interpersonal deliberation to be pretty clear and intuitive, but the analogous claim about appropriate or good reasoning to be… interesting, somewhat plausible, but less than clear and intuitive.

      (2) According to Derek, the key point I was missing is something like this: when (and because) we are reasoning about government authority or permission to coerce in particular – even in private or considered abstractly – our reasons are essentially reasons directed toward others. In this way, just as acceptability standards sometimes screen off good reasons or let in bad reasons in interpersonal deliberation, so they do the same work in moral reasoning itself (when the topic is government permission to coerce). Perhaps the right way to think of this is in terms of reasoning as if you were arguing with someone and this being the appropriate way to come to conclusions about government permission to coerce. Analogously (and as an application), it is intuitive that one should not use private, not-properly-presented-in-court reasons in determining, even privately, whether someone should be convicted for murder – even if one can and should use all of the reasons in determining whether you think this person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

      All of this sounds plausible enough to me, but also something that requires quite a bit more thought before I would even know just what I would be signing onto. It seems that we need some sort of “bridge principle” that connects the ethics of interpersonal deliberation to forms of appropriate or good reasoning (at least when the conclusions are about government permission to coerce – but perhaps there is a more general connection here between acceptability in the ethics of deliberation and the use of similar standards for special cognitive tasks or forms of reasoning).

      (3) Another important (and controversial) part of Estlund’s view is this: it is not only actual people and actual viewpoints that do the work (of the “qualified” sort), but all possible people and viewpoints (of the “qualified” sort). So, in order to justify government permission to coerce, we need to consider all possible “qualified” beliefs or viewpoints, not just actual ones. This, I think, is a far cry from the traditional notion of religious tolerance (and it is incompatible with the interpretation of religious tolerance that I suggested in my post, as concerning the circumstance of someone having a religious conviction triggering a blocking of government permission to coerce). I’m at least somewhat skeptical of this idea because it seems to me that, even if all possible “qualified” viewpoints and objections matter, it seems that being actual makes such viewpoints and objections matter even more. But, again, I mostly just need to think about all of this some more.

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      • I think I’m basically with Derek on this. What you have him saying in your (2) above is what I was alluding to in my 11:00 am comment yesterday.

        I find (3) plausible (meaning I find the view you attribute to Estlund plausible). Maybe actual viewpoints matter more than merely possible ones, but actual viewpoints do change into ones that hadn’t previously been actualized, and possible ones just plain get actualized despite not having clear antecedents, so there’s no reason to tether Estlund’s view to actual viewpoints. It’s not the way I read him when I read chapter 3 of the book.

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  3. A continuation of the same point. I find this claim a little unclear, but however you slice it, it can’t be Estlund’s:

    On this view, the truth or falsity of some of our conclusions about permissible government coercion depend on whether or not people have religious beliefs according to which what they would be coerced into doing would be a sin.

    Estlund’s view is not that someone’s having religious beliefs affects the truth of falsity of anything, but that political justification cannot regard appeals to truth as sufficient for government coercion. Put simply, his view is that if I am a government agent, and I’m tasked with coercing you, I cannot simply appeal to the fact that the norm justifying my act of coercion is true, leaving the matter there (even if it is true). I have to make a special attempt to justify the claim in terms that are at a bare minimum doxastically accessible to you, where doxastic accessibility is a necessary condition for acceptability, which is a stronger requirement. Put more colloquially, I can’t coerce you on the basis of some norm whose justification you couldn’t possibly understand.

    To use an outlandish example, I couldn’t coerce you based on a norm whose only justification was some complicated theorem in Bayesian probability theory (even if the theorem was true and justified the norm) if I have no reason to believe that you know any Bayesian probability theory. I somehow have to make the basis of my action accessible to you, even in your diminished (or defective) epistemic state, dumbing down my super-duper justification so that innumerate people will get it. One possible objection to this view is that there may be norms such that there is no feasible way of doing this. But where feasible, Estlund’s view regards making-it-accessible as a minimal requirement.

    Granted, acceptability goes beyond accessibility: Estlund’s point is not just that we can’t appeal to a norm whose justification the coerced person doesn’t understand (though I think his view implies that), but that we can’t appeal to a norm that (once understood) violates the person’s “reasonable moral and philosophical convictions,” even if false. My problem is, your post isn’t really about that. The essential feature of Estlund’s view is that political justification is relativized to reasonability, not to religion. Unless your objection is to how he cashes out “reasonability,” I don’t see how your post makes contact with that view. Your complaint is that on the view you’re criticizing, government coercion is held hostage to irrationality (taking religion to overlap significantly with irrationality). But whether or not that holds good as an objection to the view you’re criticizing (I don’t think it does), it seems to misfire as an objection to Estlundian acceptability.

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    • I think you largely get Estlund right. Perhaps I was not clear, but my primary focus was on the issues – and on starting with the stated principle of religious tolerance. Not so much getting to the place that I know Estlund wants to go but wondering how he does or could get there. However, yes, you are right, the principle from the bottom of p. 43 makes it clear that Estlund does not think of religious tolerance, or its basis, in terms of conditions of religious conviction triggering some standing, general obligation not to coerce (and hence making the relevant proposition true). However, this is a natural way to think about religious tolerance and speaks to the inaptness of the “hey, here we are just generalizing from this thing you already accept” line. The better interpretively better line of questioning for me, pursued in the reply to your first comment but not so much in the post, starts from how the cited general principle seems to apply to giving (acceptable) reasons, not good reasoning, and gone from there. The natural interpretation of religious tolerance that I was pushing should have been ruled out as a possible interpretation of Estlund.

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  4. My preceding two comments bear on David’s complaint:

    I’d take this sort of consideration to be distinct from the sort of reasons we might take ourselves to have to be respectful in debate.

    That may be true of what Michael is saying about religious tolerance, but it isn’t true of Estlundian acceptability. The whole point of Estlund’s discussion is that the norms of political justiication are closely akin to the reasons we have for proper conduct in discourse (“debate” is too narrow; not all discourse is debate-like). I won’t try to justify that claim; I think it’s just obvious from the text of Estlund’s chapter 3.

    A note in passing (on Estlund, not on anything either of you have said): On p. 48, Estlund says:

    Any view of legitimacy must, at some point, face the question of why coercive enforcement is ever permitted against someone’s will–what justifies punishment.

    I agree with everything before the em dash, but am I the only person who regards this use of the term “punishment” as odd or eccentric? Taking “coercion” in the ordinary colloquial sense (rather than in any supposedly tricky normative sense a la Khawaja) no one would say that all acts of enforcement are acts of punishment (in the ordinary sense of that term, rather than some special, tricky sense). The more severe acts of coercion may have a punitive aspect to them (or may not), but they don’t constitute punishment per se. The aim of retributive punishment is usually taken to be the intentional imposition of harm on a wrongdoer for having done the wrong. But coercive enforcement bears no essential connection to that aim. A paternalistic law is coercive, but doesn’t aim at harm imposition (just the reverse). A pedestrian or car stop is coercive, but doesn’t aim at harm imposition (just the reverse). Same with self-defense. Etc. etc. Whether any of that is ever permitted is another matter, but it’s not the same question as the justifiability of punishment.

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    • I agree that Estlund’s acceptability requirements are modeled on proper conduct in discourse. They seem, for that reason, to differ from more straightforward considerations about respect for conscience. That was part of the thought I was trying to express. But I’m not sure we ever get much of an account from Estlund of what grounds these requirements. So occasionally I’ve wondered whether they really differ from respect for conscience, or whether they come to the same thing. Still, respect for conscience — at least of the straightforward variety — does not really turn on acceptability or reasonableness; though reasonableness might factor in somewhere to the limits of respect for conscience, that respect is not basically grounded on some notion that the person’s conscience is reasonable, or acceptably reasonable. Were Estlund’s account grounded on something akin to respect for conscience, it would not need to make so much of the idea of acceptability of reasonableness.

      In any case, one major reason why I do not find Estlund very helpful is that he has so little to say about what’s supposed to ground these requirements in the first place. I can appreciate that he’s trying to lay out a framework that is compatible with a variety of accounts of acceptability. Still, without some more determinate account, I find it difficult to assess the framework or to see what’s supposed to motivate us to embrace it. The more distance I get on the book, the less it seems to me to have anything positive to contribute to our thinking about democratic theory.

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  5. A final point, and then I have to go pick my car up (which is why I have the time to write in the first place: my car is in the shop). So here is the principle of Religious Tolerance again.

    Religious Tolerance: Governments are morally forbidden from (i) enforcing religious tenets on their citizens that are not the religious tenets of those citizens (or requiring of them sworn allegiance to such tenets) and (ii) forcing its citizens to say or do things that contradict their religious tenets (if they have such).

    Forgetting Estlund for the moment, it seems to me that this principle has to be tweaked a little bit to capture what liberals tend to have in mind nowadays when they invoke “religious tolerance” (assuming they do; I’m assuming that liberal hostility to religion hasn’t gotten to the point where liberals no longer care about religious tolerance, but I guess: give it time).

    Take (i). The issue isn’t just whether governments are forbidden from enforcing religious tenets or requiring sworn allegiance to tenets that aren’t theirs. They can also mandate respect without enforcing the tenets or swearing allegiance to them in inappropriate ways. Arguably, religious tolerance excludes this.

    The issue arises most acutely in Israel (as a Jewish state), and in Islamic states where Islamic law is the basis for large parts of the legal system. These states will sometimes go out of their way to accommodate religious minorities (non-Jews in Israel, non-Muslims in Islamic states), but will then turn around and demand respect for the religious convictions of the majority. The “Jewish National State” law in Israel is a very clear case, not because it’s the worst of the lot, but because the requirements in question are so explicit:

    https://www.vox.com/world/2018/7/31/17623978/israel-jewish-nation-state-law-bill-explained-apartheid-netanyahu-democracy

    A devout Muslim Palestinian from the West Bank who marries a resident of Jerusalem will find life made very difficult unless he signs on. Note that the terms of allegiance are determinate in part, but also open-ended. You have to sign on to the idea that Israel is a Jewish state, and that the right of self-determination it exemplifies is specifically Jewish. Jews have a monopoly on the exercise of the right of self-determination that non-Jews lack. Non-Jews are in effect being forced to disavow any claim to self-determination they may regard themselves as having. For instance, you must disavow the idea of a single non-Jewish or non-sectarian state in the territory now called “Israel.” This avowal of the uniquely Jewish character of self-determination (or disavowal of any non-Jewish claim) is taken to entail that “Jewish settlement is a value,” whatever that ends up implying. Could it imply that you must avow the acceptability of the state’s expropriating your home town, razing it to the ground, and giving it to Jewish settlers? Sure. But it doesn’t require you to sign on to the truth of any aspect of Judaism, or to swear allegiance to Judaism. In fact, conversion to Judaism is treated with skepticism, by the state as well as by the rabbinate.

    Something similar is true of Islamic regimes, but arguably in a worse way. Pakistan’s blasphemy law doesn’t require you to adhere to Islam; it requires you (on pain of death) to respect Islam.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_Pakistan

    Actually, strictly speaking, it requires you to respect all established religions, but I find it difficult to write that down, even in a spirit of academic discussion.

    Though it’s not a case of state coercion, it’s still relevant to religious tolerance: Catholic institutions tend to demand that faculty and staff “show respect” for the Catholic character or mission of the university. It’s never been clear to me what this means (and unclarity is part of the package). Among the more clear implications: you can’t show derision for Catholicism, whether as a matter of doctrine, institution, or ritual. You are obliged to attend mass a few times a year, whether or not you want to. Meetings begin with a prayer, usually Catholic or theistic (though there’s no explicit rule about it); you have to maintain a prayer-like demeanor as it’s being said, whether or not you believe in it, or believe in prayer. Every room on campus has a crucifix in it; you can’t take yours down. Every room on campus has a blessing inscribed on the door, in chalk; you can’t erase the one on your door. Preference is given, in announcements, to those that are Catholic in character: Mission Integration is permitted to put flyers up without prior authorization; no one else is. And you can be prevented from holding an event that is thought to flout the Catholic/Franciscan character of the institution (abortion being the most volatile trigger). It’s an interesting question whether any of this violates a principle of religious tolerance (assuming that the principle applies to voluntary, consenting interactions).

    My point is, (i) has to be formulated to exclude laws like the Israeli and Pakistani ones, and possibly even the demands of “respect” made by Catholic universities. (The first two examples are a lot clearer than the second, I admit.)

    Now take (ii). I think (ii) has to be tweaked so as to make clear who has authority to decide what counts as the religious tenet of a certain religion. Is it the adherents themselves, or is it some organized, established religious authority?

    This may sound pedantic, but it isn’t. The Amish and Mennonites are Christians, but conceive their faith as requiring them to live lives of simplicity. You could reasonably object that Christianity doesn’t really require that at all. The question is whether they get to decide, or some Christian Authority Figure does. (Something similar was true of the Branch Davidians. Does Jesus demand that Christians stockpile weapons in imminent expectation of a fight with Anti-Christ? David Koresh thought so.) Some Muslims regard the wearing of the hijab as obligatory; some don’t. But those who regard it as obligatory will often demand the right to wear it on the grounds of its being obligatory: if God said wear it, there’s no avoiding that command. In France, the Accredited Muslim Authorities deny the legitimacy of the obligation, and in that way, strip some Muslims of their supposed grounds for insisting on wearing the hijab. The same issue arises for the definition of “kosher” and “halal”: both terms have a legal meaning in the commercial code, a meaning that reflects the consensus of mainstream religious opinion. But consider the measles epidemic in New York, which owes its existence in part to Ultra Orthodox Jewish objections to the measles vaccine: they claim that it contains pig DNA, which violates the kosher laws; other Ultra Orthodox Jews (and obviously, other Jews) contest that.

    It matters whether a liberal state accepts such Religious Authority Figures or not when it comes to deciding what counts as religious tolerance. The issue isn’t just, abstractly, “tolerance for religious tenets,” but tolerance for who gets to decide the meaning of each particular tenet.

    The Lord has not yet informed me of whether my car is ready for pick up.

    I ask Allah subhana w’ta’ala in all humility that my bill not be Satanic in its excess. I take refuge in the Lord. And in my credit card.

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    • I agree with most of that. But I think of all of this in terms of circumstances of conviction having some upshot for what the state (and perhaps other agents/entities) is permitted to do – i.e., this circumstance making permission and obligation stuff true. Not in terms of what reasons it is acceptable to give or not (and not in terms of analogous acceptability requirements determining which reasons can and cannot enter into my reasoning on the topic).

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  6. In an effort to wrap some this up a bit…

    I think we agree that acceptability requirements on reasons for government coercion are not a generalization from the idea that the government is required not to force folks to act against their (reasonable enough or otherwise “qualified”) religious convictions. On Estlund’s view or just on the merits. The only relevant generalization here seems to be to convictions in general, not to what reasons are allowed or not in justifying government coercion.

    I’m not sure we are on the same page regarding acceptability considerations or requirements (i) operating on reasons (justification, political justification per se) as against (ii) operating on the giving of reasons to others in discourse, debate, etc. Estlund clearly wants [i]. My central concern (the motivation for some perhaps-opaque machinations in several posts, including this one) has been that, while it is clear how something like acceptability applies to the giving of reasons in discourse or debate, it is not at all clear why something like this should apply to reasons or reasoning itself (i.e., political justification per se).

    I find this concern gripping. How could acceptability apply to reasoning itself? (Why, for any value of ‘P’, would the truth and justification of P depend on whether the conditions cited or reasons for/against P appealed to are acceptable to this or that actual or possible person, relative to their convictions or anything else?) If the claim is that acceptability does apply to reasons/reasoning itself, is this in virtue of it applying to the pragmatics or ethics of discourse or debate? If so, how do we get from the pragmatics/ethics of discourse/debate (standards governing the giving reasons, reasoning with others) to political justification itself (standards governing private reasons, reasoning about whether a proposition is true)? My attitude here has been: find some plausible political-liberal-ish starting points and let the imagination roam (and the technical distinctions proliferate) in order to see how we might get from here to there.

    I’m now convinced that the beginning of understanding Estlund’s central claim (and its justification) here is taking the analogy to restrictions on evidence/reasons in public trials very seriously. When we think about this case correctly, it does, I think, provide something of a bridge between acceptability standards governing the ethics of discourse/debate and analogous standards governing reasoning itself.

    Here is the relevant thing that I think is happening in the case of public trials (put in general form):

    *a necessary condition for Q being true is that the sufficient the reasons for/against (closely related proposition) P that would be presented in discourse/debate meet some further standard (call it “acceptability” if we like).*

    P here is something like ‘Fred is guilty of crime C’ and Q is something like ‘the state should determine that Fred committed C and convict and punish him’. And the additional, external standards that need to be met by the reasons/evidence for/against P to be presented and considered in the public trial include things like that the evidence was gathered in a proper, legal way. What is key here is that meeting the relevant standards in the ethics of discourse/debate in the context of public trial is a necessary part of what makes it true that the state should convict. This principle provides a bridge of sorts between the ethics of discourse/debate and private reasoning.

    Applied to the ethics of discourse about government coercion and the truth and justification of propositions about the government being permitted to coerce, we might get something like this.

    (1) P = it is in the public interest for the government to coerce in manner X.
    (2) Q = the government is permitted to coerce in manner X.
    (3) As a matter of the ethics of discourse/debate, presenting certain reasons for/against P, R1, R2,… Rn, would be unacceptable to certain actual or possible persons in virtue of violating or going against their (reasonable enough or otherwise “qualified”) convictions.
    (4) Meeting the condition of [3] is part of what is necessary for Q to be true.
    (5) Due to [4], in private reasoning about whether Q is true, the force of any (private) appeal to any of {R1, R2,… Rn} for/against P (and because of this likely for/against Q) would be negated by the corresponding proposition that R1 (R2, R3,… R) goes against the conviction of some actual or possible relevant person (thus failing to meet the relevant acceptability standard).

    [5] here shows the putative impact on private reasoning, in this sort of context, of restrictions on reasons that it is permissible (or at all effective) to present to actual or possible interlocutors. It is not that we are obligated not to consider unacceptable reasons in our private reasoning (as we are obligated not to present such reasons in discourse/debate); rather it is that, because they are unacceptable and because we believe/know this, their support for Q is negated or counteracted (by relevant propositions to the effect that these reasons are unacceptable in discourse/debate, relative to the reasonable-enough or otherwise “qualified” convictions of actual or possible folks). That’s it. That solves the problem.

    Alternatively – but I think unacceptably (har!) to Estlund – we might take political liberalism to speak only to the ethics of discourse/debate, not to political justification (the justification of propositions about whether government coercion is permissible) per se. And I think it is intuitive to see why Estlund would resist this (the central concern is supposed to be justifying government coercion, not how we are to treat others in discourse/debate on this topic).

    Does this make some sense?

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  7. I think that makes sense. I’m a little unsure of where you’re coming down on the applicability of the various problems you’ve raised, though, so let’s see where I get.

    I take it that the leading idea of acceptability requirements is that it is a necessary condition on legitimacy (the justification of state enforcement of law and policy via coercion or the threat of coercion) that what the state requires be justifiable in terms acceptable to the people of whom it requires it (who would be subject to coercion or the threat of coercion). Why this requirement? Estlund has little to say, presumably because he wants his framework to be consistent with a variety of different accounts. For Rawls and others, the basic idea is one of respect, but one could conceivably offer a consequentialist justification if one were so inclined.

    If this is as far as we go, the problems that you’ve been worried about don’t seem to me to arise. The acceptability requirement doesn’t apply to reasoning itself; it applies to reasoning meant to justify state coercion (or perhaps more broadly to coercion in general, whether by the state or not). Such reasoning is never private reasoning; it is always reasoning about whether to apply coercion or the threat of coercion to others. So the acceptability requirement does not enter into our reasoning on matters not concerned with coercion. When it does enter in, it does not require us to accept false or dubious premises as reasons; it prohibits us from appealing to some true or justified premises. What we’re left with is the idea that even though it might be true (or strongly enough justified for me to believe responsibly) that, say, normal human fetuses are persons with the same moral rights not to be killed that you and I have, we cannot appeal to this claim in justifying state coercion because the claim itself (and/or the metaphysical and ethical claims on which it is based) is subject to qualified rejection (reasonable disagreement or whatever). It isn’t that the proposition becomes unjustified; it’s that coercion can’t justifiably be based on it. What’s unjustified here is, in the first instance, not a proposition, but coercion or the threat of coercion; the justification of the proposition (‘coercion is justifiable in this instance’) is a different, and secondary, matter.

    So, as I say, I don’t see that the problems you’ve been worried about recently arise here. I think that’s the conclusion you’ve ended up with here (“that solves the problem”). But perhaps by a different route!

    I agree that the trial is an important model, but I’m not sure what work it does or should be doing. The exclusionary rule is justified at least in part by a desire to deter rights violations in the gathering of evidence. It is relevant to determining your guilt that the cops found forty pounds of cocaine in your car, but that fact is inadmissible because they violated your rights to discover it. The right so protected is plausibly justified by respect, but it’s not clear what, if at all, it has to do with acceptability conditions; we’re constraining the sorts of reasons available to making a decision, but it’s not clear that we’re constraining them because those reasons are not acceptable to certain parties. By contrast, respect for a jury’s decision — Estlund’s own chosen emphasis — despite the possibility of error is justified by the jury’s ability to reach decisions that we can all agree are better than any other alternative upon which we can all agree; here the notion of acceptability enters in, but it seems to be doing the work of justifying the jury trial system rather than constraining the admissible evidence or reasons. In other words, while the exclusionary rule offers a clear analogue for excluding reasons that we would otherwise take to be relevant, Estlund’s own use of the jury analogy seems to depend on an acceptability requirement rather than to justify or explain it.

    To my mind, the whole problem with acceptability requirements lies in why they’re supposed to be justified. Different answers to that question will probably yield different criteria and different requirements. I haven’t really shifted my view since my last post on this; it seems to me that acceptability requirements as they figure in Estlund, Rawls, et al. are either trivial or too strong; they’re not trivial on the interpretations that defenders of political liberalism intend, but it may be that their plausibility trades on the plausibility of weaker, but still not trivial, versions of them. It seems to me that the ethics of debate or discourse will require a different sort of acceptability than political legitimacy, and for different reasons. So a more detailed account of the rationale for the requirements than Estlund gives us would be helpful.

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    • We agree on quite a bit here. But not, apparently, on the considerations surrounding the problem that I see (and that you, I take it, still don’t). Maybe a serial quote-and-response format is the best for furthering understanding and discussion? In any case, here goes!

      *****

      DR: … I take it that the leading idea of acceptability requirements is that it is a necessary condition on legitimacy (the justification of state enforcement of law and policy via coercion or the threat of coercion) that what the state requires be justifiable in terms acceptable to the people of whom it requires it (who would be subject to coercion or the threat of coercion). Why this requirement? Estlund has little to say, presumably because he wants his framework to be consistent with a variety of different accounts. For Rawls and others, the basic idea is one of respect, but one could conceivably offer a consequentialist justification if one were so inclined.

      MY: This seems right, but I think it is safe to assume that, for Estlund and political liberals generally, what grounds the requirement is an application of the broad principle, ideal or value of respect for person, applied *specifically to the issue of social/collective/state coercion*. You don’t get anything like this on other topics. What I’ve tried to do is (start to) fill in and explain what might be happening with the standards for good reasoning on this topic, providing the general conditions for it. That is consistent with this pattern of justification not applying to any interesting cases other than the justification of social/collective/state coercion.

      DR: If this is as far as we go, the problems that you’ve been worried about don’t seem to me to arise. The acceptability requirement doesn’t apply to reasoning itself; it applies to reasoning meant to justify state coercion (or perhaps more broadly to coercion in general, whether by the state or not). Such reasoning is never private reasoning; it is always reasoning about whether to apply coercion or the threat of coercion to others. So the acceptability requirement does not enter into our reasoning on matters not concerned with coercion.

      MY: Yes, I think political-liberal-style acceptability requirements are meant to apply, among the reasonings, only to the reasonings about whether the state is permitted to coercively enforce laws. But this reasoning, it seems to me, is private (i.e., it concerns propositions supporting further propositions, our privately going through this in our minds) – not groups of people reasoning together publicly, giving reasons to each other or trying to convince each other of things about the advisability or permissibility of state coercion. I do think one claim that some political liberals make (and that, according to Derek Bowman, Estlund makes) is that certain reasoning, maybe exclusively reasoning on this topic, is inherently public in that *the reasons being considered are essentially reasons to be given to or addressed to others*. I find this claim mysterious and that it is mysterious is one reason that I’m digging more on this topic. Maybe I should not be puzzled and there is an easy (but not obvious to me) way to make sense of this claim. Also perhaps you and I are working with different ideas of what private reasoning is.

      DR: When it does enter in, it does not require us to accept false or dubious premises as reasons; it prohibits us from appealing to some true or justified premises. What we’re left with is the idea that even though it might be true (or strongly enough justified for me to believe responsibly) that, say, normal human fetuses are persons with the same moral rights not to be killed that you and I have, we cannot appeal to this claim in justifying state coercion because the claim itself (and/or the metaphysical and ethical claims on which it is based) is subject to qualified rejection (reasonable disagreement or whatever). It isn’t that the proposition becomes unjustified; it’s that coercion can’t justifiably be based on it. What’s unjustified here is, in the first instance, not a proposition, but coercion or the threat of coercion; the justification of the proposition (‘coercion is justifiable in this instance’) is a different, and secondary, matter… So, as I say, I don’t see that the problems you’ve been worried about recently arise here. I think that’s the conclusion you’ve ended up with here (“that solves the problem”). But perhaps by a different route!

      MY: Several things. First, I do think that Estlund wants to allow for false (but acceptable) propositions to be used in political justification. Second, what I’ve tried to do is explain why good reasons favoring collective coercion might be appropriately excluded from “political justification.” It is no mystery why it might be that we should exclude such reasons as your (assumed for the sake of argument to be true) proposition about fetuses in public discourse. Roughly, we owe this to others, out of respect for them, their agency and their reasoning processes, when what we are trying to do is reach consensus on it the permissibility and advisability of collective coercion. It is, for me, a mystery why we should not use such reasons in privately considering whether relevant collective coercion is permissible. Third, I’m not sure it matters whether what is being (privately) justified is a proposition about the permissibility of collective coercion or some other attitude or action with respect to the coercion. Both because we are concerned with permissibility (which is consistent with the coercion not being best all relevant things considered) and because the intention/action is collective, it seems appropriate to be considering reasoning that terminates in believing a proposition (does the collective process of discourse terminating in collectively-enacted enforcement measures count as a type of reasoning analogous to individual, practical reasoning?). For sure, once someone is being coerced by the group or its agents, relevant standards of respect for persons most often call for adequate reasons to actually be given to the person who would be coerced; and perhaps something like political-liberal standards of acceptability constrain which reasons are to be given. But this is discourse, not reasoning.

      DR: I agree that the trial is an important model, but I’m not sure what work it does or should be doing. The exclusionary rule is justified at least in part by a desire to deter rights violations in the gathering of evidence. It is relevant to determining your guilt that the cops found forty pounds of cocaine in your car, but that fact is inadmissible because they violated your rights to discover it. The right so protected is plausibly justified by respect, but it’s not clear what, if at all, it has to do with acceptability conditions; we’re constraining the sorts of reasons available to making a decision, but it’s not clear that we’re constraining them because those reasons are not acceptable to certain parties.

      MY: Yes. The case is disanalogous in this respect. My general model about how acceptability conditions in discourse might (secondarily) apply to (closely related) private reasoning really applies to any external normative standard that constrains which reasons one it is appropriate or inappropriate to present in discourse or reasoning with others about a topic.

      DR: By contrast, respect for a jury’s decision — Estlund’s own chosen emphasis — despite the possibility of error is justified by the jury’s ability to reach decisions that we can all agree are better than any other alternative upon which we can all agree; here the notion of acceptability enters in, but it seems to be doing the work of justifying the jury trial system rather than constraining the admissible evidence or reasons. In other words, while the exclusionary rule offers a clear analogue for excluding reasons that we would otherwise take to be relevant, Estlund’s own use of the jury analogy seems to depend on an acceptability requirement rather than to justify or explain it.

      MY: These are good, important points. Respecting the decisions of a jury (and hence the procedure of disallowing some evidence that was gathered via rights-violations) depends not on it being true that this system is best (at getting correct decisions) but on it being the case that we can (or perhaps reasonably-enough would or should) all agree that the system is best. This latter bit does presuppose something like standards of acceptability. But I’m not trying to explain or justify such standards in appealing to this model. I’m only trying to explain – first at the most general level but also in the case at hand – how standards that apply, in the first place, to giving reasons to each other come to apply to private reasoning (on the model of propositions providing support for other propositions). I should make perfectly clear, and probably did not, just what explanatory and justificatory work is being done or helped by appealing to the public trial case. Thanks for helping me get clear on this.

      DR: To my mind, the whole problem with acceptability requirements lies in why they’re supposed to be justified. Different answers to that question will probably yield different criteria and different requirements. I haven’t really shifted my view since my last post on this; it seems to me that acceptability requirements as they figure in Estlund, Rawls, et al. are either trivial or too strong; they’re not trivial on the interpretations that defenders of political liberalism intend, but it may be that their plausibility trades on the plausibility of weaker, but still not trivial, versions of them.

      MY: Sure. We are largely agreed here. Though, as I hope is clear now, my focus is on more general and formal issues about how (acceptability) standards that clearly apply to X (discourse about government coercion) apply to Y (reasoning itself concerning the permissibility of government coercion) as well. I’m perhaps less negative than you are about there being a “sweet spot,” though I do remember not being satisfied with the generality (and hence effectiveness) of Estlund’s argument that qualified acceptability need be neither too narrow nor too broad (though I take it that Irfan was pretty satisfied on this count…). I also wonder about whether this is the only way that standards of respect for others in discourse (about the advisability/desirability and permissibility of government coercion) come to impact relevant private reasoning. For example, often, it seems that, intuitively, the unacceptability of conclusions matters as much as the unacceptability of premises (in what it is okay to do in reasoning together toward a consensus when the stakes are high or the application of collective coercion is at stake). This speaks to the need for a general inquiry into how and why we are obligated to respect each other in discourse together, how these standards apply to discourse toward consensus when the stakes are high or the collective application of coercion is at stake, etc.

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  8. MY: I do think one claim that some political liberals make (and that, according to Derek Bowman, Estlund makes) is that certain reasoning, maybe exclusively reasoning on this topic, is inherently public in that *the reasons being considered are essentially reasons to be given to or addressed to others*. I find this claim mysterious and that it is mysterious is one reason that I’m digging more on this topic.

    DJR: No doubt there are many things we might mean by ‘private’ or ‘public,’ and in some senses it would be weird to think of this as public. But as I understand Estlund et al., the animating idea is that the state (at least) cannot rightly require of me what I reasonably do not or cannot accept; legitimacy demands that the state be able to justify to me what it requires of me. If so, then any reasoning about what the state can and cannot legitimately enforce should be bound by the acceptability requirement, because it is a necessary condition on legitimacy that there be adequate reasons that can be given to the people subject to the state’s requirements. If so, then even if I’m just off reasoning by myself in a corner about what might be legitimate, my reasoning needs to respect the acceptability requirement. My reasoning needs to respect the requirement because coercion (or state coercion) needs to respect it; in that way the epistemic justification of propositions or beliefs is secondary to the moral justification of coercion.

    I don’t find that mysterious, which is not to say that I find it unproblematic. As I’ve written, I find it either too trivial to support political liberalism or too strong to support the kinds of politics that political liberals often want. The trivial version is not entirely trivial; it does exclude laws and policies that require people to do things that they have no sufficient reason to do absent the threat of coercion, and in conjunction with even a moderate pluralism it supports liberalism against theocratic or collectivist authoritarianism and their cousins. Its triviality is relative to the kind of neutrality that political liberals want; for that, we need the stronger version. I don’t think that the stronger version is really justifiable by appeal to an acceptable conception of respect, but the weaker version is. I can concede some mystery in why people suppose that respect requires the stronger version. But granted the principle in one or other of those versions, the impact that it is supposed to have on my reasoning makes sense to me. It’s not that I have perfectly good reasons to believe that P that get defeated by some bad reasons, so that I can’t believe P; it’s that the proposal to coerce is unjustified from the get-go because it can’t be justified in terms acceptable to the people I’m proposing to coerce.

    The question is: is my way of thinking about it (a) different from how you think Estlund thinks of it, or (b) the same as how you think Estlund thinks of it, but mysterious or problematic for other reasons?

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  9. Much thanks for that response, David. It really prompted some re-thinking on my part. I think I’ve caught an error that we are both making in different ways (and that might also reflect an ambiguity in some statements of political liberalism). What I say mainly addresses your first paragraph.

    I was taking acceptability requirements on reasons to be, in the first place, normative requirements that would, as such, have to apply primarily to discourse or reason-giving. Then the mystery was connecting this up to private reasoning. Why should there by any connection at all? My error was in thinking that acceptability requirements on reasons are normative requirements at all. What they are – and I was pretty clear about this later on in trying to solve my imagined problem – is necessary conditions (‘requirements’ in this different sense) for state permission to coerce. And that yields a rather ordinary, hum-drum connection to good reasoning about when the state is permitted to coerce (basically, that R is unacceptable nullifies the force that R would otherwise have at least insofar as it would be part of what adds up to sufficiency in reason). That’s not exactly what Estlund says, but I think this is right. At least in one part of what you say, David, I think you get this point essentially right, too.

    You are also right – and I was wrong – in taking the central normative-requirement type of claim to be a claim about state coercion being impermissible (unless acceptability conditions on sufficient reasons are met). However, you seem to ground the normative requirement itself in unacceptability in coercive acts – and this might or might not be right (or part of the typical or central political liberal position). And I think it is in any case confusing and perhaps confused. This sort of unacceptability regarding what is done to me (roughly that of ‘not appropriately allowed by me’ rather than ‘not something that it is reasonable for me to believe, relative to background belief’) is different from unacceptability in reasons. And it need not be what the political liberal takes to ground the state requirement not to coerce (unless… blah blah).

    Perhaps, secondarily, there are some ethics-of-discourse claims that some political liberals want to make or should make. Perhaps these are claims about normative requirements regarding reason-giving (when the topic of debate is state coercion or perhaps more generally). But the connections between this normative claim and the central normative requirement regarding state coercion (or its grounds) would need to be clearly made (and the distinction between the two senses of ‘requirement’ clearly kept in mind). If this kind of claim is an important claim in political liberalism, I don’t yet understand its connection to [the state having to be in a position to give reasons that are not only (otherwise) sufficient but also acceptable to relevant agents] being necessary for state coercion to be normatively permissible.

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    • I think there are two main sources or areas of confusion for me in thinking about these questions, one perhaps peculiar to Estlund, another more general. The first is that, in Estlund at least, there seems to be an effort to leave the normative grounding of the requirements itself open to a variety of different and potentially competing specifications. As I understand him, Estlund wants to offer a philosophical framework that can itself be subject to a kind of overlapping consensus, and in any case he wants to explore how the idea of acceptability requirements operates in some abstraction from exactly how we specify the criteria of acceptability. I understand the rationale for developing the framework in that way, and though I have some doubts about it — in particular, I am inclined to think that the plausibility of the framework depends substantially on whether we ground it in this way or that way — I don’t have any principled objection to exploring it in that way. But it does make things a bit difficult, for me anyway.

      The other major source of problems for me, I think, is one you touch on here; it’s whether and to what extent the acceptability requirements begin from some normative ideas about coercion and respect or from some normative ideas about discourse and respect. As I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve come to suspect that we should think of the two things — coercion and discourse — rather differently. But at the moment it is not at all clear to me how they’re supposed to be related for Estlund, or Rawls, et al. All the more reason for me to get my act together and read the Rawls essay!

      To my mind, the notion of grounding norms of substantive respect — having to do with coercion, but not only with coercion, rather more broadly with ‘what is done to’ a person, as you put it — in norms governing discourse or reasons seems the wrong way around (norms of reason and discourse depend on substantive norms, don’t they?). But it’s possible that I’ve been failing to see some of the problems you’re describing because I haven’t been taking that idea seriously enough.

      But now I’m confusing myself even more, I think. We’ll see where we get with the Rawls.

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