Document Type

Working Paper




Legal Reason, Public Reason, Same-Sex Marriage, American Dream


Law | Public Law and Legal Theory | Sexuality and the Law


This paper proposes that ambiguous arguments play a crucial role in the management of radical disputes in democratic deliberation. Lofty though it might be, public reason is an impoverished ideal, and its celebrated role in democratic deliberation is vastly overrated, particularly among liberal theorists. In the courts of law and in the larger world, radical disputes unfold as messy, incomplete, ambiguous arguments are proposed by parties. This does not mean that all communication between parties must break down because parties do not abide by the rules of argumentation and evidentiary reasoning. It only implies that the language of ambiguity offers possibilities for democratic deliberation that are different from those presented in the discourse on public reason. Ordinary people have strong opinions but their arguments are, more often than not, incompletely theorized - a fact that by no means indicates that such arguments are failures. We illustrate our argument by examining the ambiguous, fragmented use of American Dream talk in the debate over same-sex marriage.


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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.