Deliberative democratic theorists typically use accounts of public reason— that is, constraints on the types of reasons one can invoke in public, political discourse—as a tool to resist political exclusion; at its most basic level, the aim of a theory of public reason is to prevent situations in which powerful majority groups are able to justify policy choices based on reasons that are not even assessable by minority groups. However, I demonstrate here that a type of exclusion I call “conceptual exclusion” complicates this picture. I argue that the possibility of conceptual exclusion creates the potential for public reason constraints to further exclude already marginalized groups— contrary to the standard view—and thus that taking conceptual exclusion seriously requires both a revision of traditional accounts of public reason and a reconceptualization of our civic obligations.
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