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Fr. 344

June 15, 2013

Rawls’ civic friendship. This notion sounds like much the sort of thing that Stout would accept in its structure and its consequences but not its conditions, for one would still have to buy into Rawls’ principles for justice and reasonableness. This thereby limits discussion and the respect that one can have for the other’s individuality. From where does this need to separate strictly subjectivity and individuality emerge? Indeed, this delimitation is the largest problem in trying to inflect Rawls’ position so as to bring him closer to that of Stout, for, on Rawls’ view, one can only gain access to individuality by first admitting the subject and reason as Rawls defines them. Insofar as the subject is formed by the principles to which all must assent (and not the individual), this would still seem too much for Stout, to whom the question would likely occur: why privilege subjectivity over individuality here? Moreover, does this reduce individuality to mere diversity for diversity’s sake? Certainly, this admission could allow for interesting individual formations but would entirely relegate them to the status of inessential (on an indexical or lexical level rather than the ontological). One might further wonder if Rawls’ account thus restores a sort of subjectivist essentialism, even if this were to be understood only effectively rather than ontologically.

Additionally, if Rawls is more on the side of subjectivity and Stout on that of individuality, then perhaps their synthesis is precisely to be found in the bringing together or injecting of subjectivty into individuality and individuality into subjectivity. For one can reasonably ask: why should changes or differing compositions at the level of individuality not affect subjectivity, i.e. one’s public identity? Part of this owes to the identity of the subject being that of law and reason themselves, which, on Rawls view, are largely unchanging and stable. More specifically, as the subject in the public sphere follows from law and law is the object of universal assent, so the subject is itself an object of universal assent.

Yet there are passages where Rawls’ account seems more flexible and where the subject opens up, as it were, to other sources than that of law. Most notably in “Unity of the Self” in A Theory of Justice, as self (and, likewise, the subject) shows itself sensitive to inputs such as community, its history, as well as the individual’s life prospects. Indeed, and perhaps most remarkably, Rawls notes of the subject that it finds its fulfillment and wider realization in the life projects and lifestyles undertaken by those individuals around it.

In short, the notion of civic friendship is promising, and, apart from the stricter conditions of subjectivity, it does not seem that Stout would have many issues with civic friendship, which itself could be mapped onto democratic virtues at least to some extent. One might still wonder if the mere fact of fulfilling one’s potentiality through the lives of others is, in the end, the right reason to accept, respect and recognize the lives that others lead or merely an egoistic and selfish projection into the lives of others.

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