Public debates in our societies are marked by appeals to tradition, religion and even manipulative uses of ‘post-truth’. This book argues that the antidote to such tendencies can only be public reasoning. We can find the resources to build what I call the public perspective if we make two commitments: to respect people as free autonomous agents and to endorse a shared ethics of beliefs. An ethics of belief is a set of epistemic and moral rules that inform the beliefs that we bring to the public forum and make possible discussion and confrontation on a terrain that is adequately public. The epistemological aspects cannot be severed from the political commitments that motivate public justification in the first place. An ethics of belief shields us against two temptations: on the one hand, to abandon reason and claim that all sorts of beliefs and opinion should weigh into public reasoning; or, on the other, to appeal to objective reasons only, independently of whether people recognise them as such or not.
CH. 1 THE PUBLIC PERSPECTIVE: AN INTRODUCTION / CH.2 PUBLIC REASON AND AGREEMENT / CH.3 THE ETHICS OF BELIEF AND THE LIBERAL TRADITION / CH.4 HAVING REASONS AND GIVING REASONS / CH.5 FACING DISAGREEMENT / CH.6 EQUAL FREEDOM / CH. 7 LIBERAL MULTICULTURALISM / 8. CONCLUSIONS / ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS / BIBLIOGRAPHY
Maria Paola Ferretti is a senior researcher in Political Theory at the Goethe University of Frankfurt on Main (Germany), where she is currently working on a research project on the ethics of risk imposition funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). She has studied philosophy in Italy (Laurea, University of Pavia 1995) and Political Theory in Britain (MA York 1997; PhD Manchester 2002). Her research interests include contemporary liberalism, democratic participation, and the ethics of public policy, with a focus on risk regulation and political corruption. She has published in journals such as Politics, Philosophy and Economics, the Journal of Applied Philosophy, Social Philosophy and Policy, Review of Policy Research, Res Publica, and Philosophy Compass. She is a member of the executive committee of the Society for Applied Philosophy and secretary of the ECPR specialist group in Political Theory.
A clear argument showing why public justification is crucial for democratic and pluralistic society. Ferretti throws a novel light on this crucial issue by intersecting politics with ethics and epistemology, showing that democratic deliberation, if combined with equal respect for autonomous agents, requires a public perspective on reasons and a commitment of citizens to scrutinize their beliefs in the light of logic, knowledge and probability.
The debate on liberal public reason has become increasingly intricate and self-referential. In The Public Perspective, Maria Paola Ferretti investigates the under-examined issue of the normative epistemology of belief. Drawing on Locke’s epistemology, she advances a distinctive position on reasoned agreement, one which ought to take the public reason debate in a bold and promising new direction. On the structure of liberal theory more generally, Ferretti has innovative and interesting things to say.
This book offers a new and comprehensive conspectus of what public reasoning demands. It sets out the two major traditions, combining the strengths of the predominantly moral account of John Rawls with the virtues of the epistemic account of Gerald Gaus. It reminds us that, in politics, we may want to refrain from offering reasons that must seem opaque to others, but steers clear throughout of the liberal tendency to exclude or sanction ‘unreasonable’ reasoners.
Maria Paola Ferretti argues for an alternative answer to the long-standing question of how to live together notwithstanding ethical pluralism. On the premise of Locke’s theory of belief, conveniently revised, she offers an alternative account of political justification, by taking seriously “the reasons that we have, and the reasons that we give others”, without any prejudicial exclusion. By appealing to people’s common gift of reason and an ethics of belief, Ferretti succeeds in “clarifying what conflicts are really about”, making them more tractable.
The Public Perspective navigates with brilliance between the perils of moral and epistemic relativism, and objective truth-claims in the sphere of democratic decision-making. Ferretti reinvents the ethics of belief as a regulative idea to demonstrate vigorously that people living together cannot succumb to the unreasoned force of popular/ist opinion, or the monologue of experts.
This is an excellent book, with a clear and convincing agenda and a distinct ‘take’ on issues which are currently both topical and highly challenging for liberal democratic regimes across the world. In recent years the nature and scope of public reason, the role of justification, and the place of agreement in contemporary polities have moved from being relatively abstract-seeming (while crucially important) questions for political theorists, to matters which engage commentators across the public sphere. Ferretti both spells out the significance of these issues, and outlines an engaging and distinctive route by which to explore them.