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Reconstructing Rawls

Reconstructing Rawls: The Kantian Foundations of Justice as Fairness

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Reconstructing Rawls
    Book Description:

    Reconstructing Rawls has one overarching goal: to reclaim Rawls for the Enlightenment—more specifically, the Prussian Enlightenment. Rawls’s so-called political turn in the 1980s, motivated by a newfound interest in pluralism and the accommodation of difference, has been unhealthy for autonomy-based liberalism and has led liberalism more broadly toward cultural relativism, be it in the guise of liberal multiculturalism or critiques of cosmopolitan distributive-justice theories. Robert Taylor believes that it is time to redeem A Theory of Justice’s implicit promise of a universalistic, comprehensive Kantian liberalism. Reconstructing Rawls on Kantian foundations leads to some unorthodox conclusions about justice as fairness, to be sure: for example, it yields a more civic-humanist reading of the priority of political liberty, a more Marxist reading of the priority of fair equality of opportunity, and a more ascetic or antimaterialist reading of the difference principle. It nonetheless leaves us with a theory that is still recognizably Rawlsian and reveals a previously untraveled road out of Theory—a road very different from the one Rawls himself ultimately followed.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05532-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. List of Acronyms
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxiv)

    In his essay “Two Concepts of Liberalism,” William Galston distinguishes between two varieties of liberal theory.¹ The first—Enlightenment liberalism—stresses the development and exercise of our capacity forautonomy, understood as “individual self-direction” and entailing a “sustained rational examination of self, others, and social practices”; this is the liberalism of not only Kant and Mill but also a number of contemporary thinkers, including Don Herzog, Stephen Macedo, Jeremy Waldron, and the preeminent Kantians (Barbara Herman, Christine Korsgaard, Onora O’Neill, Allen Wood, etc.).² The second—Reformation liberalism—emphasizesdiversityand the toleration that encourages it, where diversity is understood simply...

  8. Part 1: Kantian Affinities

    • 1 Rawls’s Kantianism
      (pp. 3-56)

      Numerous scholars have questioned the depth of Rawls’s Kantianism. For example, in their early responses toTheory, Andrew Levine and Oliver Johnson cast aspersions on Rawls’s Kantian credentials, and they were not alone.¹ More recently, it has become common for people (especially political liberals) to point out that §40 ofTheoryis entitled “A KantianInterpretationof Justice as Fairness,” suggesting that justice as fairness,though not itself Kantian, can be given such an interpretation.² In the original preface toTheory, however, Rawls himself asserts that his theory of justice is “highly Kantian in nature,” an assertion that is echoed...

  9. Part 2: Reconstructing Rawls

    • 2 The Kantian Conception of the Person
      (pp. 59-114)

      In chapter 1, I discussed Rawls’s Kantian conception of the person and the way in which it is reflected in particular features of the OP. To recapitulate, Rawls conceives of persons as free and equal rational (i.e., moral) beings, with the moral quality being primary, the other two mostly derivative. As moral beings, we have the two moral powers of reasonableness (moral autonomy) and rationality (personal autonomy); to be more precise, competent adults possess the capacity to develop and exercise the two powers. Agents in the OP consider the development and exercise of these powers to be highest-order interests, which...

    • 3 The Priorities of Right and Political Liberty
      (pp. 115-151)

      The priority of the right over the good is a central feature of Rawls’s doctrine of right and one of its most Kantian elements. Because it has been the target of strong criticism, especially by communitarians, I will briefly review Rawls’s definition and justification of it, arguing that once we augment Rawls’s conception of the first moral power so that it includes a capacity for moral autonomy, the priority of right flows readily from it (see, e.g., Sandel 1982). Such an extension is both required by the structure of Rawls’s constructivism and implied by a Kantian understanding of reasonableness.


    • 4 The Priority of Civil Liberty
      (pp. 152-172)

      Chapter 3 focused on political liberties, that is, those basic liberties, both core and auxiliary, that serve as institutional expressions and supports of our moral autonomy in the domain of right. The core political liberties are the rights to vote and hold public office, and the auxiliary political liberties include free political thought, speech, press, and assembly as well as minimal protection at least for psychological and physical integrity. I will turn in this chapter to civil or nonpolitical liberties, that is, those basic liberties that serve as either direct or indirect institutional buttresses for our personal autonomy. Civil liberty...

    • 5 The Priority of Fair Equality of Opportunity
      (pp. 173-191)

      The final statement of Rawls’s second principle of justice reads as follows:

      Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both:

      [difference principle (DP):] to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged . . . , and

      [fair equality of opportunity (FEO):] attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.¹

      As discussed in chapter 1, FEO has two distinct components, namely, formal EO (i.e., “careers open to talents”) and substantive EO (which compensates for the social contingencies of family and class). Moreover, “fair [equality of] opportunity is prior to...

    • 6 The Difference Principle
      (pp. 192-228)

      Rawls says inTheorythat “the force of justice as fairness would appear to arise from two things: the requirement that all inequalities be justified to the least advantaged, and the priority of liberty (TJ 220).” The difference principle (DP), which proclaims that “social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are . . . to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged,” consequently plays a central role in his political theory (TJ 266 [“final statement of the two principles of justice”]). As I argued in chapter 1, the DP requires that a social minimum index of...

  10. Part 3: Kantian Foundations

    • 7 Justifying the Kantian Conception of the Person
      (pp. 231-248)

      As I have just shown in part 2, the only convincing arguments for the central principles of justice as fairness—the four priorities of right, political liberty, civil liberty, and fair equality of opportunity plus the difference principle—are tightly linked to and even require the radically Kantian conception of the person described in detail in chapter 2. Is this conception particularly compelling, however? The discussion so far has simply assumed that this conception has priority over alternative, maybe equally compelling conceptions (e.g., persons as sensuous beings, artistic creators, or children of God), but as we have seen, Rawls needs...

    • 8 The Poverty of Political Liberalism
      (pp. 249-300)

      In the preceding chapter, I in effect initiated a two-part critique of what Rawls eventually came to call “political liberalism,” which offered a new justificatory basis for justice as fairness. The first part of this critique focuses on Rawls’s proposed solution to the problem of securing a coincidence of wide reflective judgments across persons on a conception of justice, which Rawls sees as “a necessary condition for objective moral truths” (IMT 290; cf. JFPM 395, PL 112). After rejecting one means of securing such a coincidence—namely, “self-evident first principles,” like Kant’s practical postulates—Rawls opts for another: a preexisting...

  11. Conclusion: Justice as Fairness as a Universalistic Kantian Liberalism
    (pp. 301-317)

    In the second section of chapter 7, I discussed two sets of circumstances in which wide reflective judgments (especially regarding conceptions of the person) of different individuals could potentially coincide—a coincidence that Rawls calls “a necessary condition for objective moral truths” (IMT 290). The second of these was critiqued in the last chapter: a preexisting consensus or near consensus on considered convictions of justice reflecting the shared beliefs of an underlying political community. To attain this sort of consensus for justice as fairness and those conceptions of person and society that support it, Rawls restricted his theory’s range of...

  12. References
    (pp. 318-325)
  13. Index
    (pp. 326-336)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 337-337)