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A Clueless Electorate? Assessing the New Assault on the Reasonable Citizen
Unformatted Document Text:  Steven V. Mazie—MPSA 2008 A Clueless Electorate? The New Assault on the Reasonable Citizen Page 6 of 23 4) our judgments are informed by “our total experience, our whole course of life up to now”; individuals’ class, occupation, ethnicity, etc. will contribute to different interpretations and diverse conclusions 5) normative considerations are often conflicting and difficult to weigh 6) following Isaiah Berlin, there is no social or political order without loss; not all values can be realized at once Little in these six points may seem dangerously controversial in an abstract sense, even for a die-hard Platonist, because they refer only to the limitations of the application of human reason. (They are skeptical of our ability to decipher the truth and to know when we have found it; they do not claim that there is no truth.) One might say it is obvious that there exist multiple conflicting values whose nature and weight are subject to debate, and that the contingencies of our lives will affect our beliefs and analyses. At this point we might mistakenly assume that Rawls is lowering the bar of the reasonable person: even the most reasonable among us are subject to bias and error. But in fact he is raising the bar, quite significantly. The key is that the reasonable citizen in Rawls’s original position and in the society that results from it recognizes these burdens of judgment: that is, she approaches public debates and analyzes resulting disagreements in light of these facts about human disagreement. Such a person is likely to be quite a bit more accommodating of views other than her own than is the average citizen. (Thus Rawls’s statement that the burdens of judgment “underwrite” an attitude of toleration.) She is also likely to be much more skeptical of her own beliefs, viewing them at arms-length through the prism of burden #4, according to which she might favor a single-payer health care policy just because she’s uninsured, say, or oppose the war in Iraq because she reads The Nation too uncritically. Whoever this person is, she is not the typical citizen on the ground, and it’s not entirely clear if we’d want her to be. While the burdens of judgment do not imply a flat- footed relativism reminiscent of classroom discussions turned “well, that’s just my/your opinion” affairs, they could revert to such lackluster conversations in the wrong hands. But if we assume that they fall in the right hands — as we should given Rawls’s position

Authors: Mazie, Steven.
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Steven V. Mazie—MPSA 2008
A Clueless Electorate? The New Assault on the Reasonable Citizen
Page 6 of 23
4) our judgments are informed by “our total experience, our whole course of life
up to now”; individuals’ class, occupation, ethnicity, etc. will contribute to
different interpretations and diverse conclusions
5) normative considerations are often conflicting and difficult to weigh
6) following Isaiah Berlin, there is no social or political order without loss; not all
values can be realized at once
Little in these six points may seem dangerously controversial in an abstract sense, even for
a die-hard Platonist, because they refer only to the limitations of the application of human
reason. (They are skeptical of our ability to decipher the truth and to know when we have
found it; they do not claim that there is no truth.) One might say it is obvious that there
exist multiple conflicting values whose nature and weight are subject to debate, and that
the contingencies of our lives will affect our beliefs and analyses. At this point we might
mistakenly assume that Rawls is lowering the bar of the reasonable person: even the most
reasonable among us are subject to bias and error. But in fact he is raising the bar, quite
significantly. The key is that the reasonable citizen in Rawls’s original position and in the
society that results from it recognizes these burdens of judgment: that is, she approaches
public debates and analyzes resulting disagreements in light of these facts about human
disagreement. Such a person is likely to be quite a bit more accommodating of views other
than her own than is the average citizen. (Thus Rawls’s statement that the burdens of
judgment “underwrite” an attitude of toleration.) She is also likely to be much more
skeptical of her own beliefs, viewing them at arms-length through the prism of burden #4,
according to which she might favor a single-payer health care policy just because she’s
uninsured, say, or oppose the war in Iraq because she reads The Nation too uncritically.
Whoever this person is, she is not the typical citizen on the ground, and it’s not
entirely clear if we’d want her to be. While the burdens of judgment do not imply a flat-
footed relativism reminiscent of classroom discussions turned “well, that’s just my/your
opinion” affairs, they could revert to such lackluster conversations in the wrong hands.
But if we assume that they fall in the right hands — as we should given Rawls’s position


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