Political Liberalism

Political Liberalism: Expanded Edition

John Rawls
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 2
Pages: 576
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Political Liberalism
    Book Description:

    This book continues and revises the ideas of justice as fairness that John Rawls presented in A Theory of Justice but changes its philosophical interpretation in a fundamental way. That previous work assumed what Rawls calls a "well-ordered society," one that is stable and relatively homogenous in its basic moral beliefs and in which there is broad agreement about what constitutes the good life. Yet in modern democratic society a plurality of incompatible and irreconcilable doctrines -- religious, philosophical, and moral -- coexist within the framework of democratic institutions. Recognizing this as a permanent condition of democracy, Rawls asks how a stable and just society of free and equal citizens can live in concord when divided by reasonable but incompatible doctrines?

    This edition includes the essay "The Idea of Public Reason Revisited," which outlines Rawls' plans to revise Political Liberalism, which were cut short by his death.

    "An extraordinary well-reasoned commentary on A Theory of Justice...a decisive turn towards political philosophy."

    -- Times Literary Supplement

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52753-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxxiv)
    John Rawls

    The contents of this work are as follows. The first three lectures more or less cover the ground of three lectures I gave at Columbia University in April of 1980 and which appeared considerably revised in the Journal of Philosophy in September of that year under the title “Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory.” In the more than ten years since they have again been recast and further revised. I think they are much clearer than before, which is not to say they are now clear. I continue to call lectures what might be called chapters, since they were all given...

  4. Introduction to the Paperback Edition
    (pp. xxxv-lxii)
    John Rawls

    In this introduction to the paperback edition, I give a Reader's Guide to the leading ideas of the book.¹ A main aim of Political Liberalism ( = PL) is to say how the well-ordered society of justice as fairness² (set out in A Theory of Justice [1971] [ = Theory] is to be understood once it is adjusted to the fact of reasonable pluralism (3ff., 36ff)³ and regulated by a political conception of justice. I start with the idea of the domain of the political together with the idea of a political conception of justice, using as an example the...

  5. PART ONE Political Liberalism:: Basic Elements
    • LECTURE I Fundamental Ideas
      (pp. 3-46)

      Political liberalism, the title of these lectures, has a familiar ring. Yet I mean by it something quite different, I think, from what the reader is likely to suppose. Perhaps I should, then, begin with a definition of political liberalism and explain why I call it “political.” But no definition would be useful at the outset. Instead I begin with a first fundamental question about political justice in a democratic society, namely what is the most appropriate conception of justice for specifying the fair terms of social cooperation between citizens regarded as free and equal, and as fully cooperating members...

    • LECTURE II Powers of Citizens and Their Representation
      (pp. 47-88)

      In the first lecture I began by saying that political liberalism addresses two fundamental questions. The first question is: what is the most appropriate conception of justice for specifying the fair terms of social cooperation between citizens regarded as free and equal? The second question is: what are the grounds of toleration understood in a general way, given the fact of reasonable pluralism as the inevitable result of the powers of human reason at work within enduring free institutions? Combining these two questions into one we have: how is it possible for there to exist over time a just and...

    • LECTURE III Political Constructivism
      (pp. 89-130)

      In this lecture I discuss political constructivism in contrast with Kant's moral constructivism on the one hand and with rational intuitionism as a form of moral realism on the other. Of the three parts, §§1–4 take up the meaning of constructivism and provide a general account of its procedure of construction; §§5–7 consider the way in which both kinds of constructivism are objective; and §§8 examines why, as part of political liberalism, political constructivism is limited to the political. Thus we shall see that political constructivism provides political liberalism with an appropriate conception of objectivity.

      Political constructivism is...

  6. PART TWO Political Liberalism:: Three Main Ideas
    • LECTURE IV The Idea of an Overlapping Consensus
      (pp. 133-172)

      We saw at the outset that political liberalism tries to answer the question: how is it possible that there can be a stable and just society whose free and equal citizens are deeply divided by conflicting and even incommensurable religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines? The first three lectures set out the first stage of the exposition of justice as fairness as a freestanding view addressed to this question. This first stage gives the principles of justice that specify the fair terms of cooperation among citizens and specify when a society's basic institutions are just.

      The second stage of the exposition—...

    • LECTURE V The Priority of Right and Ideas of the Good
      (pp. 173-211)

      The idea of the priority of right is an essential element in what I have called “political liberalism” and it has a central role in justice as fairness as a form of that view. This priority may give rise to misunderstandings: it may be thought, for example, to imply that a liberal political conception of justice cannot use any ideas of the good at all, except perhaps those that are purely instrumental; or else those that are a matter of preference or of individual choice. This must be incorrect, since the right and the good are complementary: no conception of...

    • LECTURE VI The Idea of Public Reason
      (pp. 212-254)

      A political society, and indeed every reasonable and rational agent, whether it be an individual, or a family or an association, or even a confederation of political societies, has a way of formulating its plans, of putting its ends in an order of priority and of making its decisions accordingly. The way a political society does this is its reason; its ability to do these things is also its reason, though in a different sense: it is an intellectual and moral power, rooted in the capacities of its human members.

      Not all reasons are public reasons, as there are the...

  7. PART THREE Institutional Framework
    • LECTURE VII The Basic Structure as Subject
      (pp. 257-288)

      An essential feature of the contractarian conception of justice is that the basic structure of society is the first subject of justice. The contract view begins by trying to work out a theory of justice for this special but plainly very important case; and the conception of justice that results has a certain regulative primacy with respect to the principles and standards appropriate for other cases. The basic structure is understood as the way in which the major social institutions fit together into one system, and how they assign fundamental rights and duties and shape the division of advantages that...

    • LECTURE VIII The Basic Liberties and Their Priority
      (pp. 289-371)

      It was pointed out by H. L. A. Hart that the account in my book A Theory of Justice of the basic liberties and their priority contains, among other failings, two serious gaps. In this lecture I shall outline, and can do no more than outline, how these gaps can be filled. The first gap is that the grounds upon which the parties in the original position adopt the basic liberties and agree to their priority are not sufficiently explained.² This gap is connected with a second, which is that when the principles of justice are applied at the constitutional,...

    • LECTURE IX Reply to Habermas
      (pp. 372-434)

      First, I want to thank Jürgen Habermas for his generous discussion and acute comments on my work, and for his setting the stage for me to reply to the instructive criticisms he raises. Doing this offers me an ideal context in which to explain the meaning of political liberalism and to contrast it with Habermas’s own powerful philosophical doctrine. I must thank him also for forcing me to rethink things I have said. In doing this I have come to realize that my formulations have often been not only unclear and misleading, but also inaccurate and inconsistent with my own...

  8. PART FOUR The Idea of Public Reason Revisited
    • Introduction to “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited”
      (pp. 437-439)

      Before his final illness prevented him from completing the project, John Rawls had been working on a revision of Political Liberalism. In July 1998 he had written to his editor at the Columbia University Press describing his reasons for proposing a revised edition and some of the changes he intended to make. His letter is included here, along with his article “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited,” first published in the Chicago Law Review (Summer 1997), which was to be the starting point for many of the revisions. As he says in his letter, Rawls considered the article the best...

    • The Idea of Public Reason Revisited: (1997)
      (pp. 440-490)

      The idea of public reason, as I understand it,¹ belongs to a conception of a well-ordered constitutional democratic society. The form and content of this reason—the way it is understood by citizens and how it interprets their political relationship—are part of the idea of democracy itself. This is because a basic feature of democracy is the fact of reasonable pluralism—the fact that a plurality of conflicting reasonable comprehensive doctrines,² religious, philosophical, and moral, is the normal result of its culture of free institutions.³ Citizens realize that they cannot reach agreement or even approach mutual understanding on the...

  9. Original Index
    (pp. 491-520)
  10. Index to the New Material
    (pp. 521-525)