This paper critically assesses the “procedural” accounts of political justice set forth by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice (1971) and Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974). I argue that the areas of agreement between Rawls and Nozick are more significant than their disagreements. Even though Nozick offers trenchant criticisms of Rawls's argument for economic redistribution (the “difference principle”), Nozick's own economic libertarianism is undermined by his “principle of rectification,” which he offers as a possible ground in (...) practice for the application of something like the difference principle. Both Rawls's and Nozick's accounts of justice fail because of their abstraction from human nature as a ground of right. At the same time the libertarianism on which they agree in the non-economic sphere would deprive a free society of its necessary moral underpinning. Rawls and Nozick err, finally, by demanding that the policies pursued by a just society conform to theoretical formulas concocted by philosophy professors, rather than leaving room (as Lockean liberalism does) for the adjustment of policies to particular circumstances based on statesmen's prudential judgment and the consent of the governed. Particularly troubling from the perspective of a citizen seriously concerned with the advancement of justice and freedom is both thinkers' shrill denunciations of existing liberal societies for failing to conform to their particular strictures. (shrink)
Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), author of the Essays (published in successive, revised and expanded editions from 1580 until after his death), deserves to be recognized as the first) philosophic architect of modern liberalism, that is, a doctrine that advocates the advancement of individual liberty (under law), and consequently a reduction in the scope and purpose of government to securing what are represented by Montaigne’s successors (Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and the American Founders) as people’s inherent rights to their life, liberty, property, (...) and the “pursuit of happiness” as they conceive it. His outward, periodic professions of extreme conservatism and of homage to the Catholic Church are merely a rhetorical cover designed to protect the author from being persecuted (and his book from being banned). As a practitioner of what he describes as esoteric rhetoric (attributing it to the ancient political philosophers), Montaigne invites careful readers to see through his rhetorical concealment by noting how his conservative professions are undermined by the overall train of his reasoning and argument. Although Montaigne’s argument for liberal individualism may have gone too far in its influence over the long run (that is, the 21st century), we citizens of modern liberal regimes owe him a debt of gratitude for helping to liberate us from the reign of arbitrary monarchs, oppressive aristocrats, and clerical oppressors. (shrink)
JOHN RAWLS IN A Theory of Justice attempts to deduce "the principles of justice" from the idea of a "contract" among free and equal persons. The factor which obviously distinguishes Rawls’ contract doctrine from the teachings of the great social contract philosophers who preceded him is that it does not rest on any examination of what the character of an actual nonpolitical condition or "state of nature" among men would be. Rawls’ procedure is in fact the opposite of that followed (...) by his predecessors: instead of inferring the principles of the contract from what men, given their nature, would be likely to agree upon in the absence of an already existing government and set of laws, he freely constructs the character and circumstances of the parties to his "purely hypothetical" "original position of equality" in order "to lead to a certain conception of justice". That conception is to consist of. (shrink)
This book is a collection of secondary essays on America's most important philosophic thinkers—statesmen, judges, writers, educators, and activists—from the colonial period to the present. Each essay is a comprehensive introduction to the thought of a noted American on the fundamental meaning of the American regime.
Matter and Form explores the relationship between natural science and political philosophy from the classical to contemporary eras, taking an interdisciplinary approach to the philosophic understanding of the structure and process of the natural world and its impact on the history of political philosophy. It illuminates the importance of philosophic reflection on material nature to moral and political theorizing, mediating between the sciences and humanities and making a contribution to ending the isolation between them.
Through a glass darkly / Joshua Mitchell -- Skepticism, self, and toleration in Montaigne's political thought / Alan Levine -- French free-thinkers in the first decades of the Edict of Nantes / Maryanne Cline Horowitz -- Descartes and the question of toleration / Michael Gillepsie -- Toleration and the skepticism of religion in Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus / Steven B. Smith -- Monopolizing faith / Alan Houston -- Skepticism and toleration in Hobbes' political thought / Shirley Letwin -- John Locke and (...) the foundations of toleration / Nathan Tarcov -- Pierre Bayle's atheist politics / Kenneth R. Weinstein -- Of believers and barbarians / Diana Schaub -- Tolerant skepticism of Voltaire and Diderot / Patrick Riley. (shrink)
"Schaefer challenges John Rawls's practically sacrosanct status among scholars of political theory, law, and ethics by demonstrating how Rawls's teachings deviate from the core tradition of American constitutional liberalism toward ...
"The discipline of subjectivity" is Ermanno Bencivenga's term for the "training" an individual must undergo "for there to be a self", a theme he explores through a "dialogue" with Montaigne's Essays. The form of this study is unconventional in that it "has a very short bibliography" ; indeed, the book is devoid of reference to other studies of the Essays, and the bibliography is limited largely to the author's own previous writings. Bencivenga's interpretation of Montaigne's thought is nonetheless conventional in (...) substance, in that he adheres to the commonly accepted view of Montaigne as a steadfast conservative in matters of political practice who paradoxically pursued a radical independence of private thought and judgment. Bencivenga also confronts the paradox that Montaigne, while affirming his own reliance on reason, frequently laments the tendency of human reason to lead us astray. He attempts to resolve these dilemmas by proffering what might be termed a sociobiological explanation of the value of the individual's intellectual freedom to the community: allowing a few individuals to indulge in playful philosophic speculation provides the community with a kind of "insurance" against the possibility that the context within which the community operates may be transformed in unforeseen ways, in which event some of those seemingly idle speculations may prove to be vital guides to the community's reordering. In sum, "we can have our cake and eat it, too" by "encourag[ing] the respect of tradition... and at the same time cultivat[ing] the germs of future different traditions" within an insulated intellectual "greenhouse". (shrink)