Public Reason: Vol. 5, No. 1, June 2013
On Political Legitimacy, Reasonableness, and Perfectionism
Thomas M. Besch

The paper advances a non-orthodox reading of political liberalism’s view of political
legitimacy, the view of public political justification that comes with it, and the idea of the
reasonable at the heart of these views. Political liberalism entails that full discursive standing
should be accorded only to people who are reasonable in a substantive sense. As the paper
argues, this renders political liberalism dogmatic and exclusivist at the level of arguments for or
against normative theories of justice. Against that background, the paper considers aspects of
a more plausible, deeper and more inclusive idea of public political justification that builds on
a thinner, potentially cosmopolitan idea of the reasonable. The paper considers what content
such an idea may have, and identifies a method of inclusive abstraction through which it may
be enriched in content to render it fruitful for the purposes of a justification of principles of
political justice. But the move toward more depth and inclusiveness faces constructivism with
two challenges. First, inclusivism about the scope of political justification might not be able to
avoid dogmatism unless it invokes perfectionist considerations. And second, the authority and
appeal of a fruitfully rich idea of the reasonable depends on whether the addressees of political
justification already value wide acceptability.

Key words: Rawls, O'Neill, Macedo, Larmore, political liberalism, legitimacy, public
justification, reasonableness, discursive respect, perfectionism, cosmopolitanism, abstraction.


Besch, Thomas M. 2013. On Political Legitimacy, Reasonableness, and Perfectionism. Public Reason 5 (1): 31-48.