Sunday, March 5, 2017

Diagnosing the abortion debate

Reporting back in January showed that abortion rates have fallen to levels lower than any year since 1973, the year of the Roe v. Wade decision, and reflect about a 50% decrease in the rate from its peak in 1981. The study, conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, which favors legal protections for a right to have abortions, cites as causal factors greater access to contraception as well as laws in many states that restrict clinics or require ultrasounds. Of course, pro-life groups still ultimately want to see Roe overturned. This would mean that individual states would determine what legal restrictions, if any, would apply to people seeking and providing abortions.

Abortion rights and restrictions pose a special challenge to the justificatory test for legitimate coercion in the law that I’ve defended in my work in political philosophy. That principle says, roughly, that for coercion to be legitimate, it must be publicly justified, or based on reasoning that is public in the requisite sense. For example, on Rawls’ view, public justification is grounded in reasons that all can reasonably accept. The test excludes reasons that are not reasonably acceptable to all from being able to do justificatory work and so prevents these reasons from being a legitimate basis for law.

For a variety of reasons I won’t rehearse, I favor a more recent specification of the principle by Jerry Gaus at the University of Arizona. His view is more permissive in that any of a citizen’s reasons may play a part in justifying laws. Laws can be justified to each citizen on the basis of their complete set of beliefs, values and commitments, so long as these are intelligible. Any intelligible reason can feature within the overall public justification of a law. However, people whose beliefs, values and commitments provide them with an intelligible rationale for rejecting it have a defeater for it and, when that’s true, it’s illegitimate to subject them to it. The law would lack authority from their point of view.

What does this view make of the abortion controversy? First, notice how easy things would be if this disagreement weren’t based on reasonable considerations. If it were flatly unreasonable to deny fetal personhood, then it would be much easier to justify a law against abortion. And if it were flatly unreasonable to ascribe personhood to fetuses, then there would no accounting for such a law. But reasonable people disagree about fetal personhood.

More: both parties to this disagreement reasonably believe that the other side is involved in imposing serious harms to the interests of others. This means that abortion law will lack authority for pro-choicers if pro-lifers have their way politically. It’s relatively obvious how this is so: pro-choicers have an intelligible rationale grounded in their beliefs, values and commitments for rejecting various restrictions on abortion. These restrictions violate privacy or bodily autonomy. But abortion law will also lack authority for pro-lifers when pro-choicers have their way politically. The reason is that, since pro-lifers reasonably believe that fetuses are persons with a right not to be killed, they have adequate justification for protecting them by imposing coercive measures that increase the costs of people killing them. Pro-lifers have an intelligible rationale for rejecting laws that carve out space for women to kill their child.

This situation, then, describes something like a moral state of nature between the two sides. We’ve failed to achieve coordination. Pro-choicers know that, even after engaging in careful and respectable reflection on the relevant moral and empirical evidence, pro-lifers won’t acknowledge the right of women to have an abortion. Public reason has run out. But this doesn’t mean that they just let pro-lifers violate women’s bodily autonomy. Pro-choicers are left as their only option taking up what P.F. Strawson called the objective attitude towards pro-lifers. They will see pro-lifers as a force to be reckoned with, managed and kept at bay as best they can as they go about their affairs, but that’s different than exercising genuinely normative authority over them.

In the same way, pro-lifers know that abortion-seekers won’t acknowledge the personhood of fetuses, even after careful and respectable reflection on the relevant moral and empirical evidence. Public reason has run out for them, too. But this doesn’t mean that pro-lifers just let women seeking abortions kill their children. From the pro-life perspective, women seeking abortions are doing something similar to driving a car towards a person in the street they can’t see. They have reason to stop her or make her swerve. In other words, pro-lifers similarly must treat abortion-seekers as mere objects of social policy rather than people with whom they are interacting on genuinely moral terms.

Disagreement doesn’t always lead to this kind of social breakdown of public reasoning and moral community. I can think of some other examples, but it’s relatively rare, which is a good thing. It also seems pretty isolated most of the time -- thankfully, a disagreement and breakdown in this area hasn’t led to a more general breakdown of moral relations among people who are on opposite sides of the abortion issue. Most people even have friends who disagree with them about abortion.

In fact, I suspect that this lends some credibility to the explanation of the abortion debate that I’ve offered here. It’s a case where we are forced to take the objective attitude towards our opponents because it turns out that they aren’t true moral subjects of the proposed requirements. Strawson’s participant reactive attitudes wouldn’t be warranted since they suggest serious culpability for violating something everyone is in on and knows better than to do. Sure, one side calls the other “murderers” and the other calls the one “women-haters” but we don’t generally act like we regard each other as such.

Kyle Swan
Department of Philosophy
Sacramento State


  1. Thank you for your post, Kyle. It is refreshing to read a viewpoint that objectively shows the problem with this whole debate...difference of opinion. (All too often, we avoid these discussions because of how emotionally intense they can become.) Since, we collectively seem to be at loggerheads over this topic, a stalemate if you will, perhaps we are asking the wrong question. If we can't agree on the morality of having an abortion, perhaps we can agree on the morality of preventing the need to have one? Lemme elaborate.

    Abortion rates suggest that the majority of those getting the procedure are of lower socioeconomic status. Lower levels and quality of education, living paycheck to paycheck, higher divorce rates, bigger breakdown of the family unit, and other factors are contributing to the need for a woman to make the choice. Abortion rates are even higher for African Americans and Latinos! Having lower socioeconomic status also suggests a lower propensity to vote, often for the same reasons that contribute to the need for an abortion. This also suggests that if this becomes a ballot issue, the majority of people getting an abortion are in the minority of the voting pool.

    Instead of having the same debate over and over expecting different results or voting away people's right to make the difficult choice in their already difficult lives, perhaps we should be discussing the morality of not doing what we can to eliminate the problem of their need for an abortion...

    1. Thanks, Kris. That would be a terrifically useful discussion to have, but part of the point of the post was to explain why, even if that happens, people will continue to vote in ways that make people's lives more difficult and ways that allow people to kill their child.

    2. Hi, Kyle.

      Minor quibble: That seems to imply that an embryo is a child. Some of us disagree (though personally, I don't find the matter very important in the abortion debate other than in terms of dialectical advantages or disadvantages, many, perhaps most people appear to).

      That aside, and with regard to one of your central points, I don't think that most people on each side take the objective attitude towards their opponents, since moral condemnation appears to be common. But in particular, generally pro-lifers support imposing punishments - such as imprisonment - not on their opponents in general, but on those who engage in abortion. There are nuances of course, since many pro-lifers see women seeking abortions as victim and their punitive sentiments are directed at abortion providers, whereas many other pro-lifers aim at women seeking abortions too, and yet others consider the matter on a case-by-case basis. However, in any case, that punitive sentiment and intent makes the matter very different from the analogy with the woman who can't see the tree.

      Now, you say that one side calls the other side "murderers" but does not treat them as such. But that's only partially true. They don't treat people who support abortion as murderers, but on the other hand, they do intend to treat people who engage in abortions (only as providers or also as seekers and other willing participants) as people who deserve to be punished with long-term imprisonment. Whether they consider their behavior as immoral as the murder of an adult (and thus deserving of the same punishment), or less immoral (and deserving of less punishment) seems to vary widely among pro-lifers. But in any case, it's not an objective attitude.

      On a related matter, I don't think pro-lifers regularly consider people who provide abortions to be reasonable in their views, or else those pro-lifers are probably being inconsistent, given other beliefs they have.

      In particular, one may ask: How many pro-lifers believe that some people deserve to spend years in prison for a behavior that is reasonable? How many pro-lifers consider it justified to imprison people for many years even if those people do not deserve to be so imprisoned?
      I'm inclined to think that most pro-lifers believe that no one deserves to spend years in prison for a behavior that is reasonable, and also that the state/government should not imprison people for years for behaviors that are reasonable.

      So, in my assessment, most pro-lifers are committed to the unreasonableness of the behavior of the people they seek to imprison for years (who they are depends on the pro-lifers).
      Also, they appear similarly committed to the unreasonableness of those who support abortion rights: while they might perhaps believe that women seeking abortions are temporarily mentally impaired for some reason (though that's not true in general), it's unlikely that they believe that people who support abortion rights with arguments, votes, donations, etc., are generally so impaired, except when they decide to take part in abortions more directly - then, they're guilty of very immoral behavior, worthy of years of imprisonment.

    3. Clarification: When I say "mentally impaired" I mean "mentally impaired in a way that makes them not guilty for their behavior" (or perhaps not guilty enough to deserve such punishments, but that would not be an objective attitude).

    4. The post is mainly concerned with the right thing to say about the debate given a certain justificatory principle. Perhaps you’re right and my speculations about what actual people actually believe are generally incorrect. Maybe people on both sides of the debate have a more circumscribed view about whether the other’s disagreement is reasonable than is appropriate. I just thought it was interesting that there seems to be a disconnect between what some people in this debate say about their opponents and how they actually treat them.

      Introducing the question of what, if any, penalties could make sense makes things really complicated and I haven’t thought it through, but, for example, abortion-seekers and -providers would usually lack mens rea since they aren’t intending to kill a person. I also remember during his campaign that Donald Trump said that women should be punished for having an abortion if it became illegal when he thought his pro-life supporters wanted him to say that. But I remember many prominent pro-life folks criticized him for saying that. Many cited it as evidence that he didn’t really know what conservatives think.

      Anyway, the point about the objective attitude was that, according to the outlined view, and given the range of reasonable beliefs, pro-lifers typically *shouldn’t* hold abortion-seekers rationally responsible and so the reactive attitudes wouldn’t be appropriate.

    5. Kyle,

      Yes, many pro-lifers do not intend to punish women seeking abortions. As I mentioned, many tend to see them as victims. Many others do seek to punish them (btw, in states in which abortion was illegal, women seeking abortions were also punishable under the law; that's also the norm across Latin America: laws who punish women who have abortion enjoy broad support, and in particular are supported by Catholic clergy). I don't know which side is more numerous among pro-lifers in the US; probably, not punishing women who seek abortions is the most common stance among prominent pro-life politicians.

      On the other hand, most American pro-lifers seem to agree on is punishing abortion providers, by imposing long prison sentences. That is clearly a punitive measure. It's not like committing dangerous insane people to a mental institution. They seek imprisonment, not hospitalization. Also, pro-lifers generally aren't error theorists about desert, nor do they support imprisoning people they do not believe deserve to be imprisoned on the basis of some consequentialist considerations.

      With regard to your point that pro-lifers shouldn't hold abortion providers rationally responsible, I agree for different reasons (I think pro-lifers are on the wrong side, and should change their minds), but it's an interesting position. It seems to me if you're right about it, most pro-lifers probably aren't being rational, since they do blame abortion providers.

      The matter of what law they should support assuming you're right that pro-lifers shouldn't hold abortion-seekers rationally responsible is I think also interesting. How would one go about banning abortion without punishing those who seek it or provide it?

    6. Addition: Or do you think pro-lifers should hold abortion providers responsible (i.e., blame them), as they usually do?

      By the way, how about blaming those who use force against abortion providers? Should pro-choicers do that?
      It seems to me that if pro-choicers agree that pro-lifers are being reasonable, the answer would be negative. After all, if person A uses force against person B (even lethal force, if no other means is available) in order to prevent B from killing an innocent person, and A rationally believes B will otherwise kill an innocent person, it seems to me that - at least generally - A does not deserve to be blamed or punished for her actions.

    7. No, it's not that they are being irrational. It's that the folks you're talking about, however large a part of the pro-life population they are, don't regard the disagreement about fetal personhood as a reasonable one. That's likely true about a sizeable portion of pro-choicers, too.

      Blame is one of the reactive attitudes that's appropriate only when the target is rationally responsible for the behavior. I argued that it isn't appropriate for either side to regard their opponents this way. That's what I meant when I said they aren't able to interact with each other on moral terms. But, their perspectives do give them reason to do what they what they need to do (I would argue, taking the least coercive or intrusive means necessary) to stop the other side.

    8. What I was trying to get at is that if you're right (if I understand your position correctly, that is), pro-lifers generally should not blame abortion providers. However, generally they do. In particular, they have the belief that abortion providers deserve to be blamed, but they should not have that belief. It seems to me that they are being epistemically irrational about that, since they have a belief they should not have. What's the alternative?
      On the other hand, if you think it is not the case that pro-lifers should not believe that abortion providers deserve blame, I'm not sure in which sense of "should" you think that pro-lifers should not blame abortion providers.

      I mean, if the fact that pro-lifers are having a reactive attitude they should not have, that seems to imply some sort of failure on their part (i.e., they're doing what they should not). But if that is not a failure of rationality and it's not the case that they should not believe that abortion providers deserve to be blamed, what kind of failure is it? Is it a moral failure, so in the moral sense, they should not have that attitude? Or do you think there is no failure on their part, even though they should not have the attitude they have?

    9. A belief can be false without being irrational. Yes, I regard it as a moral failing to hold people morally accountable to a standard that those people have reason to reject. People on both sides do that. They shouldn't.

    10. I agree a belief can be false without being irrational.
      I reckoned that if your analysis is correct, the belief - held by most pro-lifers - that abortion providers deserved to be blamed, was apparently irrational, but my assessment was not based on the premise that the belief in question is false, but rather, on the premise that they *should not* have that belief - which you stated in the case of abortion seekers, and implied in the case of abortion providers if I understand your position properly.

      While a person may rationally hold false beliefs, if a person has a belief that they *should not* have, then it seems to me that they have that belief irrationally, at least in the epistemic sense of "should".

      However, your latest reply indicates that you didn't mean they shouldn't hold that belief in the epistemic sense of "should", but rather, that in the moral sense of "should", they should not blame abortion providers. I think this raises a difficult problem, for the following reasons:

      Let's say that most pro-lifers *rationally* believe that abortion providers deserve to be blamed for their behavior, punished for it, etc. On the basis of those rationally held beliefs, they blame abortion providers and seek to legally punish them. If that is a moral failure on the part of those pro-lifers - if they morally should not blame them, seek to punish them, etc. -, then it seems that they morally should not act on the basis of their rationally held moral beliefs. Instead, they morally should refrain from blaming abortion providers, etc., even though they rationally believe that abortion providers deserve to be blamed, etc. That raises difficult issues about the relationship between morality and rationality, though it might not be decisive.

      However, I think there is a potentially bigger difficulty:

      Let's grant that it's a moral failing to hold people morally accountable to a standard that those people have reason to reject, that people on both sides do that, and that they morally shouldn't.
      However, assuming that (most) pro-lifers *rationally* believe that abortion providers deserve to be blamed, would it not be a moral failing to blame pro-lifers for blaming abortion providers? After all, their rationally held belief that abortion providers deserve to be blamed would just appear to give pro-lifers reason to reject the standard to which they're being held morally accountable.

  2. Very nicely measured post Kyle. Before I got to your driver analogy, I was trying to think of an anolgy myself. There's this famous violinist... just kidding.

    Real point. I would want to stop dangerous drivers (eg take the keys from a drunk driver) in order to prevent harm to innocents, or perhaps the drivers themselves. But I think it's ok to be paternalistic sometimes. On you view of social and political philosophy, I get the idea that people shouldn't interfere with others coercively... or at least limit such interference to what is necessary to have, and share the benefits of, cooperative society. For me, personhood is not doing any work in the abortion debate. But let's assume that is what divides the debate in the US. Why is it that pro-lifers get to interfere with abortion-seekers' decisions when the decisions do not directly affect the pro-lifers? (Interference like changing the rules about the type of building abortions can be carried out in).

    Your driver example seems to be getting at this, but it's not clear that your theory fits well with that example. From the drivers' perspective, she isn't driving dangerously. To make her swerve, potentially harming her, because of the invisible person the pro-lifer claims is really there would not go down well with the driver. In fact, anyone really doing that might well end up in jail, since coercion of others is only allowed if they all agree.

    Notice that there isn't really a flipped version of this in which voting age abortion-seekers coerce voting age pro-lifers... but there is a non-voting age version in which fetuses are the coerced pro-lifers!

    I think that laws forbidding abortion would be more consistently defended by a social and political philosophy based in paternalism.

    1. It's simply third-party protection from harm. Whether there is a third party concerns the (reasonable) disagreement over fetal personhood. So, it's true that an abortion-seeker's decision to abort a fetus doesn't (in the sense you mean) directly affect pro-lifers, but third-party protection falls well within the bounds of public reason. Of course, the application of rules protecting third-parties to a first-trimester fetus doesn't, but that's just to say that any rule limiting access to a first-trimester abortion will lack moral authority from the perspective of the abortion-seeker. I admit that in the post. This interference won't go down well with the abortion-seeker.

      Rules that protect people from interference with bodily autonomy also fall well within the bounds of public reason. But I argue in the post that the application of those rules to women seeking an abortion doesn't. As I say in the post, rules that carve out space for women to kill their child will lack moral authority from the perspective of pro-lifers. In other words, the rule preventing pro-lifers' from protecting innocent third-parties aren't justified from their perspective. This interference won't go down well with the pro-lifer (or the fetus).

      The above makes the abortion controversy a tragic moral social dilemma. Both sides reasonably say the other is subjecting them to unjustified interference. Both sides reasonably say that the other is harming serious interests. They're left unable to interact with each other on this issue on moral terms and find themselves in a kind of moral state of nature.

  3. Kyle, I think I agree with all of this. Suppose we stipulate that anyone, regardless of their personal views on this matter, should agree with this.

    Isn't it nevertheless possible to agree on a metaprinciple: viz., that whenever there exists sincere, rational and significantly widespread disagreement concerning the justifiability of a coercive law, then the law should not be enacted? Shouldn't, in other words, the burden of proof always be on the legislator?

    I don't mean to suggest that this has any relevance for something like Roe v. Wade, since one could easily answer yes to this as part of a rationale for leaving it to individual states to decide based on the level of agreement or disagreement that exists.

    1. Yes, generally, that would be the result in such cases -- in cases where that's true, the matter would be decentralized to individual decision-makers (or, in some cases, determined by a decision procedure that is publicly justified). But the post suggests that this doesn't work for the abortion debate. That was part of my response to Dan -- both sides reasonably say the other is subjecting them to unjustified legal interference.

    2. I'm probably missing something important. It just seems to me that the proper legislative action, if both parties really do have equally defensible rationales, is inaction. Laws are bad, unless proven otherwise. That makes the pro-lifers look like losers, but that's only because they are the ones who want to impose the law. I don't see why a rational pro-life libertarian wouldn't accept that.

      Sometime in the near future you may be able to make the same case for a different debate. In that one the pro-lifers will be liberal vegans and the pro-choicers will be conservative carnivores. The table would be turned in that one.

    3. Because in this case inaction wouldn't really be inaction. At least from the pro-life perspective, it would mean that people would be coercively prevented from protecting innocent third-parties from being killed, which is something that they are clearly justified in doing given fetal personhood.

    4. Do you think the coercion that results from creating laws that restrict people's freedom and the coercion that results from preventing people from passing laws that restrict people's freedom have the same moral significance?

      The way I see it is that from the reasonable perspective of pro-lifers our legal system is not restrictive enough. It grants the freedom to kill a certain kind of innocent person. But from the equally reasonable perspective of pro-choicers the law is already restrictive enough, since fetuses aren't persons. If we really grant that these views are equally reasonable, then the burden of proof falls on the party that wants greater restrictions of individual freedom, even if they see it as the freedom to kill innocents. Complaining that we are being coerced by being prevented from restricting freedoms is just an icky way of saying we are being made to tolerate greater freedom.

      But suppose I am wrong. Do you think there is simply no disinterested perspective from which a just approach to dealing with this sort of disagreement can be articulated? How compelling would your stalemate conclusion be if you had written the post in abstract terms, stipulating only that it was a fundamental disagreement over the scope of some fundamental liberty?

    5. Hi, Randolph,

      I would raise the following issue: From a pro-life perspective, the system is not restrictive enough when it comes to allowing the killing of fetuses, but on the other hand, far too restrictive when it restricts the use of force to prevent the killing of fetuses or embryos. On the other hand, from a pro-choice perspective, the system is just about right (or not entirely, given restrictions after a certain period, different pro-choicers have different views on the matter, but approximately).
      If both views are equally reasonable, why should the system have to side entirely with one of them? Why not side entirely with the other view?

      The issue is very different in countries in which abortion is criminalized, such as most of Latin America: from a pro-life perspective, the system is approximately right. But from a pro-choice perspective, it's far too restrictive in that it restricts abortions. So, it seems in this case, the law sides with the other side.
      If both views are equally reasonable, is one system (e.g., the American system) better than the other (e.g., the Brazilian system)? If so, why?

    6. Randy, the point is more that both sides are advancing laws that restrict people's freedom. Remember, I think laws protecting property are coercive.

      Pro-lifers wouldn't likely recognize their view in the icky way you characterized it. Compare: it would sound to you odd in the extreme if someone characterized your view that way when you argue that someone you regard as a full-fledged person should be protected from being killed. "You just don't want to tolerate greater freedom, Randy." Well, no, I guess not, but it's not a freedom you should have...

      Yes, given the ranged of reasonable articulated perspectives, there's no neutral standpoint *here*. Certain (especially communitarian) critics of liberalism say this is a general problem. I don't agree with that.

    7. Thanks Kyle (and Angra) I think I may be slowly getting a handle on it. Sorry if this has crossed over into obtusity, but if someone were to say what Kyle suggested to me my response would be something like the following:

      Yes, I guess see your point. You and I have agreed that creatures like us are persons and have thus agreed to a certain set of rules restricting our behavior with respect to each other and those like us. Now I wish to strengthen those rules to include entities (like human fetuses or monkeys or robots) not currently protected.

      I feel very, very strongly about this; in my view the current system is preventing me from doing what is morally necessary. I sincerely experience this as coercion. The current laws are preventing me from doing what I believe to be right. Nevertheless, I recognize that we reasonably disagree on the personhood of these individuals and, moreover, I recognize that it is I who am petitioning to widen the scope of existing laws which would further restrict the freedoms of all those currently bound by them. Therefore, what I am describing as coercion, is just me being made to tolerate a system that grants greater freedom to everyone currently bound by it. The burden of proof must always fall on those who wish to make an existing system more restrictive to those currently bound by it, and so it falls on my shoulders to convince you that these restrictions must be imposed.

      I still think this is basically correct, though I would be live to the criticism that it is too rationalistic (i.e., too contractarian/libertarian). Also, it clearly relies on unambiguous agreement about what the current system entails. If our argument is over the implications of our current system, i.e., because our concept of a person or whatever has changed, it gets trickier. Though I think I would still argue that the burden of proof lies with those who wish to formally extend the concept.

      What I really suspect is this: People on both sides of the abortion debate typically do not experience this as a disagreement between reasonable people. You argue that it is, in fact and I agree. But I suggest most people would accept my reasoning abstractly, but reject it in this case because they don’t accept your assertion that both views are equally defensible.

    8. It looks like our main disagreement is about the justificatory burden. On my view, it falls on the coercer. It does in cases where it's being suggested that the coercion be imposed. But it does, also, if it happens to already be in place. In that case, there's a justificatory burden that reasonable objections be satisfied according to the relevant justificatory test. Compare: the reason recreational drug use should be decriminalized is that there's no adequate justification for the laws. According to the way I see the structure of justificatory procedures, I don't shoulder a burden to justify decriminalizing drugs just because it's a change in the law.

    9. Yes, that's a good point. So I guess what I'm left wondering is why wouldn't my suggestion be preferable to stalemate in the kind of case you are describing. It is perfectly ok to have a tie-breaking principle and mine seems most compatible with libertarian sensibilities. Basically it would come down to a status quo bias. As a pro-choicer in a pro-life legal system I would have to accept the status quo under the conditions you describe for the reasons you give.

  4. Kyle,

    Thanks for this post, which seems to me to also work with moral vegetarianism, for those with secular, religious, and/or hybrid views for why some forms of non-human animal treatment deserve to be legally/politically regulated.

    What caught my eye was your introduction of the view of Jerry Gaus:

    "Laws can be justified to each citizen on the basis of their complete set of beliefs, values and commitments, so long as these are intelligible. Any intelligible reason can feature within the overall public justification of a law. However, people whose beliefs, values and commitments provide them with an intelligible rationale for rejecting it have a defeater for it and, when that’s true, it’s illegitimate to subject them to it. The law would lack authority from their point of view."

    I may be pushing back in the wrong place, but it seems to me like this statement of the view exposes it to a worry: it allows for the same individual to have both reasons for accepting some limitation on her freedom, and to have a defeater for those reasons, in very many (perhaps all?) cases.

    Am I right about this, as a feature of the view? Or is it a bug? (Maybe a bug that can be quickly swatted aside?)

    It seems to me, when I do an inventory of my own mind for the reasons why my behavior should have to be limited in some way, I can find reasons that "work" to persuade me of the legitimacy of the limitation, but also reasons that "work" in the opposite direction (as a defeater, even, of the original reasons). But on Gaus' view, as you state it, is sounds like other people have to back off of me, just because I have those defeaters handy. But that seems to give me extraordinary veto power over other people. Is that a correct way to understand it?

    1. Maybe I just wasn't clear enough. Gaus's view is different than Rawls's in that the former doesn't argue for a principled exclusion of a certain class of reasons. Any intelligible rationale that I might use to justify a limitation on someone else's agency is admissible in the public sphere. But that I can offer them doesn't mean that they actually justify the limitation. They won't if the target of the limitation has a reason of her own for rejecting it. She gets to use hers to 'play defense' so to speak.

      But maybe you're asking about a case where there's a conflict in the target's reasons. If that's what you mean, then she'd have a defeater for the limitation if she had reason, all things considered, to reject it.

      But maybe I've just misunderstood your question.