[hist-analytic] Rawls, Contract, and the Theory of Social Choice

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Mon Aug 30 19:46:29 EDT 2010

Yes, Rawls loudly proclaims he is a social contract philosopher. But there is an important sense in which this is false. I hope to spell this out soon. Rawls uses the social contract the way the early Wittgenstein uses the propositions of metaphysical elucidation; that is, as a ladder which has served its purpose. In other words, Rawls uses the notion "social contract" which he "will throw away ...after he has climbed upon it." (Tractatus 6.54). 

I don't follow you on the relation of the veil of ignorance, equality etc. I think you need to cite a bit of text here. 
Again, in my opinion he is a social contract theorist in name only. 



----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Brandon Young" <brandonbildung at gmail.com> 
To: Baynesr at comcast.net 
Cc: "hist-analytic" <hist-analytic at simplelists.co.uk> 
Sent: Monday, August 30, 2010 1:29:52 PM 
Subject: Re: Rawls, Contract, and the Theory of Social Choice 


I'm not sure. It is pretty well-accepted that Rawls was very much so in the tradition of "social-contract theorists" from Hobbes (who is brilliant) to Rousseau. Consequentially, Rawls imagines a State of Nature where the "game" is not equality in general but equality of choice; that is, the "veil of ignorance. 

Rawls was conscientiously in this tradition of the social-contract philosophers, and revitalized the field. His anthropological assumptions are just different. Hobbes. like Machiavelli, assumes man as essentially not good, Rousseau assumes the converse. Thus, the two branches of social theory: One, a critique of the State/political/cultural/ apparatus, the other a expansion of how the State must control the inherent Fall of Man. 

The interesting thing is that one of Rawls' axioms is that the Moral organ, like the linguistic organ, and employs a principles and parameters approach to morality. 

All of this is very interesting. I will have more to say later. I'm reading "Law's Empire" but must cut my wandering mind in check and get down to the business of being a good law student and keep healthy. 

This is very interesting and I will have more later, perhaps. 

On Wed, Aug 25, 2010 at 2:20 PM, < Baynesr at comcast.net > wrote: 

Before engaging Rawls (and related self professed "social contract" philosophers, we need to get our "meta-bearings." What is Rawls up to, anyhow. Here is my take in very broad terms. 

Rawls is not, really, a social contract thinker. He intends to be but this is not what is most fundamental in dealing with his thoughts on, say, the "Nash point," Arrow's theorem, Pareto liberalism, and welfare economics, generally. The way I see it, Rawls has a bogey man (or bogey person, or bogey woman, etc). That bogey being is the idea of a "comprehensive moral view." I will go into all this later, but I just want to set forth in general terms what I see as his strongest motivating desires. 

What Rawls wants to do, in my opinion, is first deploy social contract theory in order to "free" himself from "comprehensive moral views"; then, "reduce" the fundamentals of social contract theory to social choice theory. Thus, Rawls is in fact doing social choice theory not contract theory, as such. I will explain later WHY I don't believe this is really social contract theory in either of the two senses I identify (Rousseau vs. Locke). But, besides avoiding "comprehensive moral views" there is another consequence, one which he will employ to detoxify the assets of utilitarianism: he detaches the theory of justice a discussion of historical processes. (e.g. _Justice as Fairness_ Harvard, 2001, p. 54: "The principles of justice specify the form of background justice apart from all historical conditions." 

I hold in abeyance the issue of the legitimacy of this move; but I would point out one fact which I believe is sort of interesting. Not only does Rawls distance himself from utilitarianism by rejecting the comprehensive view, e.g., but he also distances himself from Marxism, by denying the pertinence of historical processes. The rejection of historical processes and the rejection of a "comprehensive view" AND the rejection of Marxism, as such - although I think it is pretty clear Rawls, notwithstanding his occasional disclaimers, is anti-capitalist - are tied to the "reduction" of political theory to social choice theory. 

Steve Bayne 

Brandon Young 
(617) 816-6301 
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