The Separateness of Persons: A Moral Basis
for a Public Justiﬁcation Requirement
Published online: 21 March 2017
Ó Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017
In locating a possible moral basis for a requirement of public justiﬁcation, public
reason liberals frequently invoke the idea that persons should be construed as free
On such a conception, individuals are said to be free insofar as we are
not naturally subject to the authority of others; and we are equal to one another with
regard to our free status.
But this tells us little with respect to what it is about us
that makes us free. Consequently, it remains unclear how a general claim about our
status as free and equal persons acquires the normative punch needed to underwrite
a requirement of public justiﬁcation.
Perhaps one plausible way to normatively prop up the claim that individuals are
free and equal is to appeal to our separateness as individuals. After all, it is a fact of
life that individuals are metaphysically distinct from one another. This fact has a
weighty inﬂuence on how many of us view our place in the world. We conceive of
ourselves as having our own life to live and, typically, we care deeply about how
that life goes. We want to be free to pursue our own conception of the good life and
to revise that conception as we see ﬁt. Understandably, then, we are not usually
eager to ignore or transcend our metaphysical separateness from others.
& Jason Tyndal
Department of Philosophy, Tulane University, 105 Newcomb Hall, 1229 Broadway,
New Orleans, LA 70118-5698, USA
See John Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1996); James W.
Boettcher, ‘‘Respect, Recognition, and Public Reason,’’ Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 33, No. 2,
(2007); Gerald Gaus, The Order of Public Reason (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2011);
Jonathan Quong, Liberalism Without Perfection (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011); Kevin
Vallier, Liberal Politics and Public Faith (New York, NY: Routledge, 2014).
See Jonathan Quong, ‘‘Public Reason,’’ in Edward N. Zalta, ed., The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (Summer 2013 Edition); Gerald Gaus, ‘‘On Justifying the Moral Rights of the Moderns: A
Case of Old Wine in New Bottles,’’ in Ellen Frankel, Fred D. Miller, Jr., and Jeffrey Paul, eds.,
Liberalism: Old and New (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 90.
J Value Inquiry (2017) 51:491–505