Reasons for Reasons

  • Mathilde Cohen
Part of the Logic, Epistemology, and the Unity of Science book series (LEUS, volume 20)


This chapter examines some popular justifications for public reason-giving common in liberal political thought. An obvious way of arguing in favor of the duty to give reasons is to point out that publicly substantiating decisions is an intrinsically valuable practice. Giving reasons simply makes for better decision-making. Yet in liberal democracies reasons are increasingly defended on “instrumental” grounds. Giving reasons is valuable because some other value will thereby be realized. Reasons are used for (other) reasons. Reasons become proxies for democratic values. The giving reasons requirement results in getting credit, not so much for increasing the quality of the underlying decisions, but rather for fostering essential democratic values such as respect, trust in the institutions, social consensus, and public accountability. The paper discusses why liberalism cannot implement these ideals fully and why the attempt can have undesirable consequences. There is a risk that reasons become self-defeating in the process. Requiring reasons may result in lowering rather than increasing the quality of the decisions themselves. Democratic societies should therefore engage in a critical reflection on their reasons for reasons.


Legal System Public Institution Legal Rule Liberal Democracy Normative Reason 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UMR-CNRS 7074: Centre de Théorie et ďAnalyse du Droit, University Paris 10NanterreFrance
  2. 2.Columbia UniversityNewYorkUSA

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