Human agency and convergence: Gaus’s Kantian Parliamentarian
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Public reason is justified to the extent that it uses (only) arguments, assumptions, or goals that are allowable as “public” reasons. But this exclusion requires some prior agreement on domains, and a process that disallows new unacceptable reasons by unanimous consent. Surprisingly, this problem of reconciliation is nearly the same, mutatis mutandis, as that faced by micro-economists working on general equilibrium, where a conceit—tâtonnement, directed by an auctioneer—was proposed by Leon Walras. Gaus’s justification of public reason requires the “as if” solution of a Kantian Parliamentarian, who rules on whether a proposal is “in order.” Previous work on public reason, by Rousseau, Kant, and Rawls, have all reduced decision-making and the process of “reasoning” to choice by a unitary actor, thereby begging the questions of disagreement, social choice, and reconciliation. Gaus, to his credit, solves that problem, but at the price of requiring that the process “knows” information that is in fact indiscernible to any of the participants. In fact, given the dispersed and radical situatedness of human aims and information, it is difficult for individuals, much less groups, to determine when norms are publicly justified or not. More work is required to fully take on Hayek’s insight that no person, much less all people, can have sufficient reasons to endorse the relevant norm, rule or law.
KeywordsKnowledge problem General equilibrium Democratic process Constitutions
JEL classificationB25 B52 D63
Prepared for “Hayekian Themes on Gaus’s Order of Public Reason,” a symposium for the Review of Austrian Economics, guest-edited by Kevin Vallier. I thank, but in no way implicate, Jonathan Anomaly, Geoffrey Brennan, Peter Boettke, Michael Gillespie, and Ricardo Guzman, as well as (least implicated of all) Gerry Gaus himself. Mostly, however, I thank Kevin Vallier, who improved and focused the paper immensely, in addition to suggesting improvements in language and an embarrassing number of outright errors. The flaws in the paper are largely the result of my inability to implement all of his suggestions completely.
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