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Meta-Ethics.5: "Public reason" and abortion

Meta-Ethics.5.1: Charles Ess Tue, 08 Oct 1996 09:56:03 EDT (30 lines)

Thomas McCarthy (see our document, "Notes on the contrast between Habermas
and Rawls," Part II) 
points out a crucial distinction between Habermas and Rawls regarding
"public reason."  Briefly, for Rawls, "public reason" _excludes_ the
sort of "unofficial" venues of discourse - including discourse within
religious communities and organizations -
which Habermas _includes_ as part of "the nervous system of the
political public sphere." (50)
This contrast regarding conceptions of public reason will become
especially significant for our discussion of abortion next Spring
- as that discussion will be framed precisely within _religious_
perspectives.
Given this contrast with Habermas - would it be fair to say that
Rawl's conception of "public reason" _by definition_ would force
a Rawlsian to ignore such a discussion (via religious perspectives)
of abortion -
while a Habermasian conception of public reason must incorporate
precisely this sort of discussion?
Given this contrast with Habermas - would it be fair to say that
Rawl's conception of "public reason" _by definition_ would force
a Rawlsian to ignore such a discussion (via religious perspectives)
of abortion - while a Habermasian conception of public reason must
incorporate precisely this sort of discussion?
If so - what does this say about the relative power of each theory to
operate in the _praxis_ of political discussion, including discussion
framed, as it so often is in the U.S., from religious perspectives?
-- Charles Ess

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Meta-Ethics.5.2: Robert Cavalier Sun, 13 Oct 1996 11:53:32 EDT (69 lines)

As if to appreciate the concerns that Charlie raises, Rawls says

on page li of the Introduction to the Paperback Edition of PL
(1995): "I...hereby revise VI:8." He now allows that "reasonable
comprehensive doctrines" (those religious or non-religious
worldviews that form part of our background culture) "be
introduced in public reason" with the following *proviso*: that
citizens *in due course* rest their case regarding
"constitutional essentials" and "questions of basic justice" on
'political values' and argue analogously to the kind of
reasoning we find in Supreme Court decisions. ("To check whether
we are following public reason we might ask: how would our
argument strike us presented in the form of a supreme court
decision? Reasonable? Outrageous?" PL p. 254). It is interesting
to note that Putnam uses the Supreme Court decision on Roe v.
Wade as a paradigm example of the adjudication process that
moral argument should follow. Putnam also agrees with Ken's
comment (1.10) that the argumentative process itself might
provide its own insight, without necessarily 'solving the
problem.' Below is Habermas's perspective on the abortion
debate:

"Is there only one correct answer to the abortion question, for
example? At this stage of the debate, both sides in this dispute
appear to have good, perhaps even equally good, arguments. For
the time being, therefore, the issue remains undecided. But
insofar as what is at issue is in fact a moral matter in the
strict sense, we must proceed from the assumption that in the
long run it could be decided one way or the other on the basis
of good reasons. However, a forteriori the possibility cannot be
excluded that abortion is a problem that cannot be resolved from
the moral point of view at all. From this point of view, what we
seek is a way of regulating our communal life that is equally
good for all. But it might transpire that descriptions of the
problem of abortion are always inextricably interwoven with
individual self-descriptions of persons and groups, and thus
with their identities and life projects. Where an internal
connection of this sort exists, the question must be formulated
differently, specifically, in ethical terms. Then it would be
answered differently depending on context, tradition, and ideals
of life. It follows, therefore, that the moral question,
properly speaking, would first arise at the more general level
of the legitimate ordering of coexisting forms of life. Then the
question would be how the integrity and the coexistence of ways
of life and worldviews that generate different ethical
conceptions of abortion can be secured under conditions of equal
rights.

In other cases, it is possible to deduce from the inconclusive
outcome of practical discourses that the problems under
consideration and the issues in need of regulation do not
involve generalizable interests at all; then one should not look
for moral solutions but instead for fair compromises
(Justification and Application, pp. 59 - 60).

In meta-ethical terms, how might Habermas's position(s) on
abortion  be reconciled with Rawls's public reason in ways that
might or might not differ from the essentials of the Roe v. Wade
decision? What is the relationship between Habermas's richer
communicative process (the background culture)  and those
reasons that move upward toward Rawls's more narrow criteria?

From another perspective, does the anti-anti-pornography
movement provide a Habermasian "background" check on
anti-pornography's attempt to move the pornography debate into
the sphere of public reason vis a vis civil rights? And, to put
it more positively and in line with Ken's comments in 1.10,  how
has that background 'conversation' affected the very way in
which we now discuss the issue of pronography (e.g., Drucilla
Cornell).

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