Wednesday, August 14, 2002

On Justice

Thought provoking article on liberalism and rationality: John Rawls and the Liberal Faith. (via Arts & Letters Daily)
"By cloaking its political conclusions in the mantle of disinterested and universal reason, A Theory of Justice insinuates that many opinions heard in public debate--on welfare reform, on abortion, on affirmative action--don't deserve a place at the table. They are, in this view, unreasonable. Such a view can all too easily feed the illiberal conviction that left-wing progressives are separated from centrists and right-wing conservatives not just by opinions (over which reasonable people can disagree) but by a gulf akin to the one that separates civilized people from philistines and barbarians [emphasis mine]."
My knowledge of Rawls is totally secondhand, from articles like this one, and his influence on the writing of Ronald Dworkin. I'm energized now though to pick up and start delving into his work as it appears he is perceived to be arguing the same thing I've felt intuitively all along -- that anyone to the right of me on the political spectrum might as well put on the clown shoes because they're effing insane. (Kidding. Sort of.) What intrigues me is the description of Rawls's "original position" (discussed in the article) from which the concept a just society is derived. I'm curious to learn more about how Rawls, first, argues his derivation, and secondly, and perhaps more relevantly, what means he advocates for working towards the just society he envisions. It seems like a good part of the debate in the comments here and at Cheek over matters of social justice is rooted in fundamentally different positions in regard to what the individual's response to social injustice ought to look like, whether indeed injustice ought even to be identified and addressed. Are we to live as paragons within our familial sphere and leave the rest of the world to its own devices? Or, do we seek to apply the moral principles that we live our personal lives by to larger social systems, if only by means like angry debate and public condemnation of the individuals and institutions that seek to deprive ourselves and others of personal liberty?

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