Science as Public Reason and the Controversiality Objection

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We all agree that democratic decision-making requires a factual input, and most of us assume that when the pertinent facts are not in plain view they should be furnished by well-functioning scientific institutions. But how should liberal democracy respond when apparently sincere, rational and well-informed citizens object to coercive legislation because it is based on what they consider a misguided trust in certain parts of science? Cases are familiar, the most prominent concerning climate science and evolution, but one may also count GMO-skepticism and vaccine-skepticism, and there are plenty of others. The paper defends what I, borrowing an expression from Badiola, call Science as Public Reason, asserting roughly that some policy-relevant factual proposition P is part of public reason if and only if there is consensus about P among scientific experts in the relevant well-functioning scientific institutions. I defend this view against the controversiality objection claiming that scientific findings cannot in this general way pass as public reason as they are sometimes controversial among reasonable citizens. My preferred line of defense is what I call Dogmatism about Science as Public Reason, which roughly amounts to insisting on Science as Public Reason on the ground that it is a philosophically well-motivated view, while conceding that it may not be acceptable to all minimally rational and well-informed individuals.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRes Publica
Pages (from-to)619–639
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V. part of Springer Nature.

    Research areas

  • Controversiality objection, Legitimacy, Public reason, Rawls, Science as Public Reason, Science skepticism

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