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Public justification and the limits of state action


  • Andrew Lister

    (Queen's University, Canada,


One objection to the principle of public reason is that since there is room for reasonable disagreement about distributive justice as well as about human flourishing, the requirement of reasonable acceptability rules out redistribution as well as perfectionism. In response, some justificatory liberals have invoked the argument from higher-order unanimity, or nested inclusiveness. If it is not reasonable to reject having some system of property rights, and if redistribution is just the enforcement of a different set of property rights, redistribution is legitimate if chosen democratically. This article explores two problems with this response. First, there are different ways to describe the set of possible policies, and so different ways to specify the noncoercive default that obtains in the absence of conclusive justification. Second, if the coercive exercise of political power must be conclusively justified, policies that are more coercive ought to require conclusive justification as against policies that are less coercive. These problems about the baseline with respect to which we require public justification raise the question of how we measure coercion, and whether or in what sense there is a presumption against coercion. The article distinguishes and argues against three such presumptions.

Suggested Citation

  • Andrew Lister, 2010. "Public justification and the limits of state action," Politics, Philosophy & Economics, , vol. 9(2), pages 151-175, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:pophec:v:9:y:2010:i:2:p:151-175

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