Public Reason: Vol. 2, No. 1, June 2010
On the Public Reason of the Society of Peoples
Alexander Brown

This article examines John Rawls’ account of the public reason of the Society of Peoples. I offer three main arguments by way of refinement to that account. The first is that the goal of unity supports an inclusive view of the international duty of civility such that the leaders of liberal peoples should be permitted to utilize nonpublic reasons in global politics as a way of reaching out to nonliberal peoples provided that in due course public reasons are presented. The second is that world leaders should not be the only agents subject to the international duty of civility. I consider and reject two reasons for limiting the scope of this duty and conclude that a range of non-state actors ought to employ global public reasons when justifying their actions in public political domains. The third is that, despite Rawls’ hesitancy on this point, it is appropriate for public persons to appeal to a family of reasonable political conceptions of international justice. The example of climate change is used to illustrate the arguments throughout.

Key words: Rawls, public reason, the law of peoples, climate change.


Brown, Alexander. On the Public Reason of the Society of Peoples. Public Reason 2 (1): 43-60.