Acceptable Reasons and Public Deliberation


Enrico Biale, Università del Piemonte Orientale (Italy) –

Charles Girard, Université Paris Sorbonne (France) –

Many democratic theories tend to put forward the exchange of “acceptable reasons” as a main requirement of public deliberation: when deliberating on public affairs, citizens should strive to offer reasons that are ‘acceptable to all’. From an epistemic point of view, such a demand is assumed to make it all the more likely that deliberation’s outcome will itself be ‘acceptable’ from a general perspective. From a moral point of view, it is supposed to manifest each citizen’s commitment to democratic reciprocity and to equal participation in collective decision-making.

However, attempts to specify the criteria of acceptability encounter dire difficulties. First of all, in what sense can reasons be ‘acceptable’, if acceptability is to be reduced neither to de facto acceptance nor to normative truth? Furthermore, what are the bounds of the community within which reasons should be ‘acceptable to all’? Finally, how can we reconcile the need for an independent criterion of “acceptability” with the idea that deliberation should not simply reaffirm a prior conception of the acceptable, but rather help shape such a conception?

Confronted with these difficulties, recent contributions have suggested that deep pluralism makes the very idea of “reasons acceptable to all” irrelevant: we should rather focus on “reasons that people do accept” and submit them to substantive standards like the consistency with the requirements of reasonableness Although such a proposal addresses real pitfalls, it is not clear if it is consistent with the epistemic, moral, and critical requirements that democratic deliberation ought to fulfil by granting the inclusion of each citizen’s claims on an equal footing and enhancing her critical standpoint, instead of focusing on her actual beliefs and preferences.

This panel aims to clarify what kind of ‘acceptability requirement’ democratic deliberation can and should impose on public reasons, if any. This is a representative (and non-exhaustive) list of the topics of discussion:

• In what sense can deliberative reasons be said ‘acceptable’ ?

• To whom should reasons be acceptable in public deliberation? All members of the political community? All persons who are affected by the outcome of a deliberation? All human beings?

• Is ‘acceptability to all’ better understood as mutual acceptability? Qualified acceptability? reasonable acceptability? universal acceptability?

• To be acceptable, do reasons have to be grounded in shared interests or common values? Can they be grounded in self-interests and partisan values?

• Should deliberative democracy dispense with the idea of reasons that are acceptable to all?

Those who are interested in participating in the workshop are invited to send a short abstract (500 words) to Enrico Biale ( and Charles Girard ( by the 1st of June 2012.

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