[hist-analytic] Beginning Critque of Rawls

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Fri Aug 20 16:37:23 EDT 2010

For Rawls, political philosophy has a number of roles, he discusses four at one point. Two of them are important for us. The first is the role of contributing towards how we think of our political institutions and how our being citizens relates to existing in society. The second role which interests us is that of providing some “orientation” for how we are to regard the various social and political relations. (Rawls [2001] p. 3) The second role sets us in particular directions assigning “rational ends” including both social and political. Rawls respects precision, but here it may conceal important unasked questions. 

He distinguishes the social and the political, but he never tells us how; and while the distinction is absolutely fundamental, e.g., in how we are to understand the nature of any social contract, the distinction is safely implicit. However, he is very clear in his characterization of the second role. Political philosophy as an artifact of reason is to determine the “rational ends” not only of the political but, also, the social sort; as well as the individual. All rhetoric and apologetics aside on behalf of Rawls, this is in fact what he says. This determination is achieved upon recognition of all ends that are rational must “cohere” with a “just and reasonable society.” Thus, political philosophy – in particular “political liberalism” – is not autonomous at that level where we are attempting to determine the ends of society . Later, what he calls “comprehensive moral views” are tolerated, but this amounts to little more than a genuflection, an acknowledgement of individual differences between what we shall call madmen and angels, that is those areas where Rawls can’t seem to think of a good reason to intervene in the name of justice. This is not an altogether uncharitable characterization, given his condescension when addressing matters of, e.g. religion and competing economic theories. As things unfold, it will be come clear that the animus of my criticisms is my concern for how "justice" and "state power" come together in Rawls. 

More soon. 


Steve Bayne 
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