Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 40 (2):307 - 328 (1978)

Abstract
This article aims at presenting Rawls' views of justification in A Theory of Justice in their most plausible form. It will be shown that common misunderstandings about Rawls' methodology, the theory of reflective equilibrium, have grave consequences for the understanding of his normative theory, too. The theory of reflective equilibrium is explained as the methodological norm that a plausible moral conception should be a real theory, the material of which consists of our „sense of justice”, our pre-reflective particular and general ideas about justice. A moral theory aims at unifying these ideas in general principles. Such a theory cannot consist solely of norms and values : its structure depends essentially upon statements of empirical and social fact, logical and linguistic rules, and upon all other factors which make up theories in general. The best moral theory attainable will contain the most plausible equilibrium between general and particular moral norms and the other elements of the theory. The original position, commonly thought of as Rawls' conception of justification, is explained as part of his normative theory instead. Thus, the theory of the original position cannot be regarded as the methodology of Rawls' theory of justice. It is also shown to have little to do with traditional ideas of social contract as justification for principles of justice. The main role of the original position is to enlarge Rawls' theory of justice, thus making that theory much more susceptible to the method of reflective equilibrium. A comparison of different kinds of criticism of A Theory of Justice concludes to show that criticism which accepts the theory of reflective equilibrium as the framework for all normative discourse can be quite fruitful. The complexity of moral theory, according to Rawls' methodology, offers ample room for normative, empirical and logical improvement
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