Rawls' Political Liberalism

Ethical Perspectives 2 (3):107-129 (1995)
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We have already stated that Rawls situates his political liberalism within the liberal tradition. The practical meaning of so doing now becomes clear. Rawls presents his theory as a resource for public reflection and self clarification of that tradition. He hopes thereby to bring the process of reflection, which has occupied the liberal tradition for a considerable time, to some conclusion. One might also speak here of a hermeneutic turn in Rawls’ thought. His political philosophy does not withdraw from the world, nor does it claim to discover the truth by its own methods of reason, “apart from any tradition of political thought and practice.”. Rawls recognises that philosophical argumentation on its own is probably not in a position to lead to agreement.For this reason he considers it more fruitful to seek out “bases of agreement” which are implicit in the public culture of democratic societies and, more particularly, in their underlying conceptions of the person and of social cooperation. It is perhaps true that such “bases of agreement” are obscure and can be understood in a variety of ways. Rawls endeavours to show, however, precisely how such concepts can be understood, and how the notion of the original position can be used to connect them to certain principles of justice which themselves belong to the tradition of moral philosophy.Rawls is not seeking to give foundation to our moral insight; instead he sees the task of philosophy as consisting in showing the “coherence” of these insights with other ideas, thereby bringing order to our convictions, from the most general to the most particular. The original position plays a central role in this reflection. It must contribute to our attainment of an unimpeded vision of the demands of justice, if society is conceived as a scheme of fair cooperation between free and equal, reasonable and rational persons. Carried by the fundamental ideas of the liberal tradition, Rawls’ political philosophy must bring this tradition to unity and consensus



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