Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

David A. Reidy

Committee Members

John J. Hardwig, EJ Coffman, Otis H. Stephens


We can best understand the moral obligations of citizens and officials concerning public reason as set out by John Rawls when two differing standards latent in his body of work are made explicit. The weaker standard, which I call Public Representation (or PR), is exegetically supported primarily by the proviso found in his “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited”. PR allows that citizens may deliberate over serious political matters, both internally and with others, according to whatever perspective and using whatever reasons they please, so long as they believe the positions they advocate are adequately just and adequately justifiable with public reasons. I present PR as establishing a moral minimum citizens and officials bear an obligation to satisfy on pain of failing to garner an adequate degree of justice, respect, legitimacy, and stability.

The more demanding standard, which I call Public Judgment (or PJ), is exegetically supported by quotes found throughout Rawls’s work, but especially in Political Liberalism, “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited,” and Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. PJ requires that citizens deliberate over serious political matters, both internally and with others, according to a public perspective with public reasons, that they only advocate positions and offer justifications they consider most reasonable, and that they share their thought processes in public. PR is nonobligatory, but achieves significant gains according to each of the four key political values mentioned above, which gives dedicated citizens good reason to embrace it.

Chapter one lays out and explores the big picture concepts framing the project; chapter two sets out Rawls’s view on public reason according to the primary texts; chapter three presents four contemporary liberal theorists’ views on public reason – Nicholas Wolterstorff, Robert Audi, David Reidy, and Micah Schwartzman; chapter four uses the lessons of chapter three to help fully unpack and compare Public Representation and Public Judgment; and chapter five considers three potential objections to my view and offers corresponding replies.

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