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Fr. 762

February 18, 2017

On the count of a.), the author traces the concept-conception distinction back to Hart and notes that, for Rawls, the concept of justice is specified by the role held in common by the different conceptions of justice. On this view, the concept of justice would seem to involve, at the very least, persons and normativity. It remains, however, an open question where one is locate that concept and whether it is unique. To that end, Weber highlights passages where Rawls speaks both of justice as fairness both as a correct concept and a good concept.

In so doing, Rawls commits, in the author’s eyes, the so-called “philosopher’s fallacy” in which one supposes that one “can always successfully universalize from specific conditions or conceptions, and that the principles were already there, in the concept prior to inquiry” (p. 62). In such a way does one transform result into condition. If Rawls’ restriction of the concept of justice to liberal conceptions of justice, rather than all, insulates his approach, to some extent, from such a fallacy, this does not prevent his understanding of concepts from being overly rigid.

By this term, Weber designates two features of Rawls’ account. On one hand, he suspects that Rawls counts on the real conceptions of people under deliberation in a hypothetical situation in order to arrive at an abstract concept of justice derived therefrom. (In fairness to Rawls, it is unclear just how real he takes those conceptions to be, in that he limits the field to standard approaches in moral philosophy.) On the other, if one takes Kantian constructivism of the categories of experience seriously, there is little reason to think that justice, a complex concept built out of more basic, would prove strong and constant as opposed to more basic conceptions, such as being.

Turning to b.), Weber entertains doubts as to the primacy of the right over the good without thereby maintaining the inverse. Rather, he suggests that the right and the good are, to a certain extent, interchangeable, depending upon the relevant aspect of the given conduct which we wish to evaluate. More simply, one and the same ethical situation might be evaluated from either perspective without our positing a positing a conceptual priority of one over the other across all cases, lest one fall prey to the aforementioned philosopher’s fallacy.

Concerning c.), the author affirms the need in Rawls’ revised social contract approach for a particularly abstract conception of person as atomic. Unsurprisingly, Weber, like other pragmatists, repudiates this notion on various grounds. Among these figures most prominently the familiar charge that language’s social constitution stands in tension with atomic conceptions of person. Although the author leaves the contention somewhat undeveloped, we might extract two main arguments about the person therefrom. First, if the goal is to abstract from all contingent formations, language must go as well. Yet language is the only vehicle for persons’ (hypothetical) deliberation. Second, persons’ conceptions, as formed by language and society, are dependent on language and society, and it is difficult to see how or for what reasons they might go on maintaining those views. Otherwise, one again falls prey to the philosopher’s fallacy.

Finally, of d.) Weber concedes that Rawls and Dewey may prove closer on this count than one might suspect. For Rawls foresees the need for revision in the aim of social progress as well as that for reconstructing our moral conceptions over time. Yet it is just such a fallibilism that stands in tension with his inability to distinguish between a and the proper balance between rival conceptions of justice.

The author concludes Chapter 3 by reflecting on overall proximity between the two thinkers in that both seek to shift philosophy onto solidly practical grounds. He deplores, however, Rawls’ limited understanding of the person and the way in which persons come by their conceptions, which forms the topic of Chapter 4. Before closing, it is perhaps worth pointing out a fallacy which may feed into certain of Weber’s critiques. Namely, in what way does pointing out the confused heritage of Rawls’ concepts discredit them without relying on the origin fallacy? Put somewhat differently, does that heritage preclude those concepts from bearing positive practical results for persons in everyday life (as in one sense of pragmatism given by William James in Varieties of Religious Experience)? Does an abstract conception of persons, on the whole, produce more practical bad than good?

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