Tag Archives: Rawls

Two monographs of possible interest to Public Reason readers

I’ve been encouraged by a fellow reader of this blog to post an announcement about my two books that have come out in the last year.

Cover of Rawls, Dewey, and ConstructivismThe first is called Rawls, Dewey, and Constructivism (2010), and was reviewed positively on Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews here. You can find the book on Amazon here: USUKCA.

From the publisher:  In Rawls, Dewey, and Constructivism, Eric Weber examines and critiques John Rawls’ epistemology and the unresolved tension – inherited from Kant – between Representationalism and Constructivism in Rawls’ work. Weber argues that, despite Rawls’ claims to be a constructivist, his unexplored Kantian influences cause several problems. In particular, Weber criticises Rawls’ failure to explain the origins of conceptions of justice, his understanding of “persons” and his revival of Social Contract Theory. Drawing on the work of John Dewey to resolve these problems, the book argues for a rigorously constructivist approach to the concept of justice and explores the practical implications of such an approach for Education. read more...

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New Book — Reconstructing Rawls: The Kantian Foundations of Justice as Fairness

Reconstructing RawlsHi folks,

Just wanted to make a shameless plug for my new book, which may be of interest to some of you. Here’s a link to the book’s PSUP website (which has further links to Amazon, etc.) and a synopsis.

With the publication of A Theory of Justice in 1971, John Rawls not only rejuvenated contemporary political philosophy but also defended a Kantian form of Enlightenment liberalism called “justice as fairness.”  Enlightenment liberalism stresses the development and exercise of our capacity for autonomy, while Reformation liberalism emphasizes diversity and the toleration that encourages it. These two strands of liberalism are often mutually supporting, but they conflict in a surprising number of cases, whether over the accommodation of group difference, the design of civic education, or the promotion of liberal values internationally.  During the 1980’s, however, Rawls began to jettison key Kantian characteristics of his theory, a process culminating in the 1993 release of Political Liberalism and completing the transformation of justice as fairness into a Reformation liberalism. read more...

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Sen, ‘The Idea of Justice’ (Chapter 4, Voice and Social Choice)

This chapter tells us more about Sen’s understanding of the ‘transcendental’/comparative distinction. I’m not going to cover all (or even most) of the points he raises in this chapter. Instead, I want to raise a question that builds on a few comments about justification from the discussion of the Introduction (e.g., Cynthia #2, Colin #5/7, Charles #15, David W. #16, Blain #17, Aaron #18). Here is my question: Is Sen’s theory of justice ‘political in the wrong way’? I’m going to suggest that (i) Sen seems to be saying ‘yes’, (ii) he ought to say ‘no’, and (iii) if he says ‘no’, the difference between his approach and ‘transcendental’ ones is greatly diminished (or perhaps removed).

What does Rawls mean by ‘political in the wrong way’? In Part V of the Restatement, he says that political liberalism seeks a kind of consensus that is different from ‘consensus politics’. The latter aims to identify a particular policy that can gain sufficient political support in a particular time and place, without seeking agreement concerning the justification of the policy (and allowing the balance of power between various groups to influence the decision). For example, one might hope to reach agreement on the ‘diagnosis’ that X is unjust, without first (or ever) identifying why X is unjust.

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Sen’s ‘The Idea of Justice’ (Chapter 2, ‘Rawls and Beyond’)

As its title suggests, this chapter is a critical discussion of Rawls’s political philosophy.  However, the chapter is not Sen’s only critical treatment of Rawls’s ideas in the book: some criticisms noted in the ‘Introduction’ are not developed here but elsewhere, and some criticisms mentioned here are developed further later in the book.  Moreover, the chapter is not entirely critical: Sen begins by recounting his long friendship with Rawls, and about halfway through the chapter Sen identifies seven ‘positive lessons’ from Rawls’s political philosophy.  Nonetheless, the bulk of the chapter is critical of Rawls’s views.

The following three criticisms especially struck me as I was reading the chapter:

  1. Sen’s claim that if Rawls acknowledges that unanimity on a conception of justice cannot be achieved, then it follows that Rawls’s entire theory of justice is ‘devastated.’
  2. Sen’s claim that Rawls simply assumes that citizens will “spontaneously do what they agreed to do in the original position” (61).
  3. Sen’s worry that ‘parochial beliefs’ might adversely affect the selection of principles of justice by the parties within the original position.

I found all three criticisms unconvincing.


Sen restates his pluralism with respect to conceptions of justice: “There are genuinely plural, and sometimes conflicting, general concerns that bear on our understanding of justice” (56-7).  Consequently, he does not think that rational agents invariably will converge on a unique set of principles of justice within the original position.  Sen goes on to note that Rawls, in his later writings, acknowledges that alternative conceptions of justice might be selected by the parties in the original position.

(The picture is actually more complicated than Sen presents.  Not only does Rawls acknowledge that the original position device does not necessitate the selection of the two principles of justice as fairness, given the many different considerations to which the parties might appeal in their deliberations [JF, 133-4], he also claims that the original position device itself is only one way to satisfy the ‘criterion of reciprocity,’ and that other liberal theories might employ different justificatory strategies for arriving at principles of justice that satisfy the criterion of reciprocity [PL, xlviii-xlix].)

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The Democratic Peace is Not Democratic: On Behalf of Rawls’s Decent Societies.

Hello everyone,

The democratic peace is secured not simply (if at all) through explicitly democratic institutions as such, but through a number of social and political norms and institutions commonly associated with democracies. In The Law of Peoples, John Rawls claims that the conditions that secure the peace between democracies can be found in his non-democratic, non-liberal ‘decent’ societies too. I argue that the situation is more complex than Rawls suggests, but that he is still largely correct. Since decent societies pose no special threat to global peace, the democratic peace thesis does not justify efforts to democratize them. This argument is part of Rawls’s larger defense of decent societies. read more...

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Intellectual Biography of Rawls — Request

As a few readers of Public Reason may know, I am in the very early stages of an intellectual biography of John Rawls. A good deal of Rawls’s correspondence is archived at Harvard, but not all. And so I am posting this request. If anyone has correspondence with Rawls that may prove relevant to my project, I would very much appreciate the opportunity to acquire or examine a copy. I will be happy to reimburse associated costs. I can be reached at dreidy (at) utk.edu. Thanks in advance for any and all assistance.  Finally, please consider passing word of this request along to others (especially senior scholars) who may have corresponded with Rawls but may not be Public Reason readers. read more...

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