Law and Philosophy

Open access

Mainstream political liberals hold that the exercise of political power is legitimate only if it is justified on the grounds of reasons that all may reasonably be expected to accept. Critics argue that this public justification principle (PJP) is self-defeating, because it depends on moral justifications that not all may reasonably be expected to accept. To rebut the self-defeat objection, I elaborate on the following disjunction: one either agrees or disagrees that it is wrong to impose one’s morality on others by the coercive power of the state. Those who disagree reject PJP, they understand politics as war. Those who agree accept PJP, they understand politics as competition. Political competitors abide by PJP to avoid politics as war, by enforcing PJP on political combatants they engage in a war that is unavoidable. In both cases their exercise of political power has a justification that is reasonably acceptable to all.



Jurisprudence 11 (2): 225-42

Download draft

According to the standard liberal egalitarian approach, religious exemptions from generally applicable laws can be justified on the grounds of equal respect for each citizen’s conscience. I contend that claims of conscience cannot justify demands for exemptions, since they do not meet even the most inclusive standards of public justification. Arguments of the form “My conscience says so” do not explicate the rationale behind the practices that the claimants seek to protect. Therefore, such arguments do not constitute even pro tanto reasons for exemptions. Rather, they are what Francis Bacon called idola fori — “idols of the marketplace” — conventional justifications that are deemed rational and even self-evident, while in fact they are not.



Oxford Journal of Law and Religion 8 (2): 223-46

Download draft

Rawlsian liberals define legitimacy in terms of the public justification principle (PJP): The exercise of political power is legitimate only if it is justified on the grounds of reasons that all may reasonably be expected to accept. Does PJP exclude religious reasons from public justification of legal provisions? I argue that the requirement of ‘reasonable acceptability’ is not clear enough to answer this question. Furthermore, it fails to address the problematic fact that justification on the grounds of religious faith involves non-negotiable claims, which is incompatible with respect for fellow citizens as co-legislators. Accordingly, I reformulate PJP in fallibilistic terms: The exercise of political power is legitimate only if it is justified on the grounds of reasons that can be subject to reasonable criticism. I show that reasons based on religious faith do not meet this principle, just like any other reasons that involve claims about final values.


Res Publica 25 (2): 235-59

Download draft

The standard liberal egalitarian approach to religious exemptions from generally applicable laws implies that such exemptions may be necessary in the name of equal respect for each citizen’s conscience. In each particular case this approach requires balancing the claims of devout believers against the countervailing claims of other citizens. I contend, firstly, that under the conditions of deep moral and ideological disagreement the balancing procedure proves to be extremely inconclusive. It does not provide an unequivocal solution even in the imaginary case based on the Biblical story of Abraham’s sacrifice, not to speak of real-life cases that are far less suggestive. Secondly, I argue that it is possible to consider demands for religious exemptions respectfully, without even challenging the way they are justified, but still reject them for principled reasons — namely, because these demands cannot be met without arbitrarily bending popular sovereignty to the dictate of religious doctrines.

Book reviews

2021. Emmy Eklundh. Emotions, Protest, Democracy: Collective Identities in Contemporary Spain. Routledge, 2019, xv+248 pp. Contemporary Political Theory 20 (1): 17–20.

Articles in progress


Political liberals hold that state coercion is legitimate only if it is publicly justified. Are government imposed lockdowns aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19 publicly justified? I show that under Gerald Gaus’s convergence model of public reason lockdowns are not publicly justified, because some citizens categorically reject them based on their beliefs about which restrictions on liberty are compatible with human dignity. On John Rawls’s consensus model, these objections, derived directly from comprehensive doctrines of the good, are invalid. Thus, under Rawls’s model lockdowns are at least pro tanto publicly justified as the only life-saving policy that can be implemented when hospitals are on the verge of being overwhelmed. I argue on these grounds that the precedent of the current pandemic tangibly shifts the reflective equilibrium to the side of Rawls’s consensus model and away from Gaus’s convergence model. In this sense, COVID-19 affects public reason.


According to Rawlsian political liberals, it is sufficient for civic friendship that citizens fulfil the requirements of public reason: they should publicly support only those legal provisions that are justifiable on the grounds of liberal political conceptions of justice, such as Rawls’s justice as fairness. I contend that when Rawlsians’ own notion of civic friendship is defined clearly, it demands more political solidarity than is required by liberal conceptions of justice, including justice as fairness. Therefore, the commitment to public reason is insufficient for civic friendship, and furthermore, legal provisions aimed at maintaining civic friendship cannot be publicly justified.


Mainstream political liberals hold that, in order to respect one another’s freedom and equality, citizens should make political decisions only on the grounds of reasons that all may reasonably be expected to accept. On the standard interpretation, this public justification principle (PJP) requires that under the conditions of deep ideological disagreement citizens restrain themselves from publicly defending and opposing legal provisions on the grounds of reasons derived directly from comprehensive doctrines of the good. Opponents of justificatory restraint argue that it is unnecessary for maintaining civic respect. In their view, it is enough that citizens open their fundamental commitments to critical scrutiny and be responsive to one another’s arguments. I concede that the standard PJP struggles to vindicate justificatory restraint, and propose a novel, fallibilistic formulation of PJP. I show that fallibilistic justificatory restraint is a more reasonable and fair means of maintaining civic respect than the duty of responsiveness.