Queen's University

Public Reason and Reciprocity

Cover for paper on the topic of public reason, by Queen's University professor and researcher, Dr. Andrew Lister.The focus of this article on public reason, and the general issue that interests me is understanding when, why, and how duties are appropriately held to be conditional on reciprocity—compliance on the part of others. Some duties are presumably not conditional on reciprocity at all, for example, the duty not to torture people, but in other cases conditionality seems more appropriate. Why should I share fairly with you, if you would not share fairly with me? Jiwei Ci has argued that the demand for reciprocity is the distinctive feature of justice, as compared to unilateral virtues such as benevolence. There are different duties associated with justice, however. It seems more reasonable to insist on assurance of reciprocity as a condition for complying with law (for example, paying one's taxes) than it does as a condition of voting for or otherwise supporting just law (for example, voting for just tax laws). Philosophers working on public reason have tended to follow Rawls in focusing on the ideal case in which the bulk of the citizenry regularly complies with the demand to make political decisions on the basis of public reasons. (Read More)