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Liberalism in Practice

Liberalism in Practice: The Psychology and Pedagogy of Public Reason

Olivia Newman
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 216
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    Liberalism in Practice
    Book Description:

    At the core of liberal theory is the idea -- found in thinkers from Hobbes to Rawls -- that the consent of the governed is key to establishing political legitimacy. But in a diverse liberal polity like the United States, disagreement runs deep, and a segment of the population will simply regard the regime as illegitimate. InLiberalism in Practice, Olivia Newman argues that if citizens were to approach politics in the spirit of public reason, couching arguments in terms that others can reasonably accept, institutional and political legitimacy would be enhanced. Liberal theory has relied on the assumption of a unified self, that individuals are unified around a single set of goals, beliefs, attitudes, and aptitudes. Drawing on empirical findings in psychology, Newman argues instead that we are complex creatures whose dispositions and traits develop differently in different domains; we hold different moral commitments in different parts of our lives. She argues further that this domain differentiation allows us to be good liberal citizens in the public domain while remaining true to private commitments and beliefs in other domains. Newman proposes that educational and institutional arrangements can use this capacity for differentiation to teach public reason without overwhelming conflicting commitments. The psychology and pedagogy of public reason proposed by Newman move beyond John Rawls's strictly political liberalism toward what Newman termspracticalliberalism. Although we cannot resolve every philosophical problem bedeviling theories of liberalism, we can enjoy the myriad benefits of liberalism in practice.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32755-8
    Subjects: Political Science, Psychology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction (pp. xv-xxvi)

    In spite of its limitations, liberalism continues to inform much theorizing regarding how the legitimacy of political regimes might be established. At the core of liberal theory is the idea that the consent of the governed is a key component of establishing legitimacy. This requirement stems from the liberal recognition that we are born free and that the only laws that can legitimately abridge our freedom are those laws we agree (or could ideally agree) to live under. This basic assumption is central to liberal theory as well as adjacent accounts of democratic deliberation and the like. For early social...

  6. I Legitimacy and Pluralism
    • 1 Public Reason and the Value of (Searching for) Shared Values (pp. 3-28)

      It is not often that people with deeply held and completely opposing viewpoints actually risk sitting down and listening to one another. We see this failure to listen and learn in our government, in our communities and in our own families. Dan Cathy and I would, together, try to do better than each of us had experienced before.

      Now it is all about the future, one defined, let’s hope, by continued mutual respect. I will not change my views, and Dan will likely not change his, but we can continue to listen, learn and appreciate “the blessing of growth” that...

  7. II The Psychology of Public Reason
    • 2 A Psychological, Not Political, Conception of the Person (pp. 31-44)

      Public reason offers the possibility of an inclusive, civil political discourse that seeks shared values and mutually meaningful reasons as far as this is possible. It helps to moderate political winners and to reconcile political losers to the political process. As a result, political stability is bolstered, and legitimacy is enhanced, as more citizens feel included in a political process that they regard as fair and productive, even if they don’t always or even often get their way.

      This is, at least, the promise of public reason. But as we saw in chapter 1, some true believers find it exceedingly...

    • 3 Psychological Realism and “Creatures Like Us” (pp. 45-66)

      Psychological realism requires that ethical theories advance norms that are “possible for creatures like us.” Is public reason possible for such creatures? Is it likely, at least under some circumstances?

      As I show, empirical psychological research provides a plausible motivational structure for public reason, as well as offering important clues as to how this motivational structure can be exploited in order to make public reason a widespread disposition in the public, political culture. In this chapter I survey empirical psychological research that supports these claims. In chapter 4, I apply this research more directly to my questions regarding the plausibility...

    • 4 Domain-Differentiation: The Psychology of Public Reason (pp. 67-90)

      Walt Whitman’s vivid portrait invites us to embrace our diversity, as our many selves bring their various strengths to bear in different aspects of our lives. Sometimes we need an artist; at other times we need a gentleman. If Whitman is right, we can have both. But as Whitman is quick to note, we resist this condition—we strive for unity and integration. Never mind that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” as Whitman’s friend Ralph Waldo Emerson tells us; inconsistency threatens our peace of mind and challenges the many moral projects that seem to require unity, purpose, and...

  8. III The Pedagogy of Public Reason
    • 5 Learning Public Reason (pp. 93-120)

      The pedagogy of public reason provides a blueprint for cultivating a commitment to public reason in the domain of public, political deliberation, while avoiding unnecessary interference in other, unrelated domains. In this way, it is able to make two important contributions to the theory of public reason. First, it provides a motivational structure for public reason—something that has not heretofore been adequately laid out. As psychological realism reminds us, “Any contending moral conception owes us both a picture of the motivational structure required for its realization and an argument for believing that this motivational structure is possible” (Flanagan 1991,...

    • 6 Institutionalizing the Pedagogy of Public Reason (pp. 121-150)

      As we saw in chapter 5, the pedagogy of public reason recommends a wide range of educational practices that give students the opportunity to think about, talk about, and collectively tackle controversial collective problems, in the context of at least some ideological diversity. In this chapter, I consider the practical and political dimensions of this imperative, focusing on two particular issues. First, I situate the pedagogy of public reason in the complex and contested field of educational rights. Second, I explore how the pedagogy of public reason might be institutionalized in the context of American education.

      Children, parents, and the...

  9. Conclusion (pp. 151-154)

    Liberal institutions and democratic outcomes earn their legitimacy from the ongoing process of public justification. In modern, pluralistic societies, citizens do not agree about political matters and can expect their political fortunes to change over time (although some citizens will, overall, be luckier than others when it comes to seeing their political preferences come to life). When citizens are committed to public reason, whatever other commitments they hold, they learn how to negotiate the pluralistic political space in a way that is productive and even transformative, even when it still leads to outcomes contrary to their personal preferences.

    In my...

  10. Notes (pp. 155-164)
  11. References (pp. 165-186)
  12. Index (pp. 187-190)