Self-Respect or Self-Delusion? Tomasi and Rawls on the Basic Liberties

Res Publica 21 (4):397-411 (2015)
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Abstract

A central feature of John Tomasi’s ‘Free Market Fairness’ is the emphasis it places upon the good of self-respect. Like Rawls, Tomasi believes that accounts of justice ought to offer support for the self-respect of citizens. Indeed, this is a key way in which Tomasi aspires to engage with the ‘high-liberal’ tradition. Unlike Rawls however, Tomasi argues that this support is best provided by our treating a broader set of economic liberties as basic liberties. In this paper I raise two concerns about this latter claim. Firstly, I trace a number of significant ways in which Tomasi’s discussion of self-respect differs from that of Rawls. Whilst such divergences are not necessarily problematic, I argue that they serve to limit the purchase his account has on left-liberals. Further, I argue that the ideal of self-respect is more deeply ‘hard-wired’ into Rawls’s account of justice than Tomasi recognises. As such, Tomasi fails to address the full range of additional ways in which Rawls expects his principles of justice to support citizens’ self-respect. I argue that this also limits the force of Tomasi’s claims. Secondly, and more seriously, I argue that there are significant tensions between Tomasi’s discussion of self-respect and his most forceful argument in favour of the market democratic model he proposes. I argue firstly that Tomasi’s account of when citizens’ self-respect is jeopardised does not allow us to readily distinguish between economic security born of systems of welfare and redistribution, and economic security born of market forces and historical contingency. And more troubling still, is Tomasi’s belief that self-respecting citizens must view themselves as a ‘central cause’ of their situation. Such self-conceptions, I argue, can only coexist alongside the greater wealth thesis if citizens engage in quite naked self-delusions about their causal power. I argue that theorists of justice have good reason to be suspicious of promulgating such delusions and, as such, that this poses a serious problem for a justification of market democracy which aspires to rest upon an appeal to self-respect

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Richard Penny
University of Southampton (PhD)

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References found in this work

A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition.John Rawls - 1999 - Harvard University Press.
Political Liberalism.John Rawls - 1993 - Columbia University Press.
Justice as fairness: a restatement.John Rawls (ed.) - 2001 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Free Market Fairness.John Tomasi (ed.) - 2012 - Princeton University Press.

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