Skip to content

Fr. 763

February 20, 2017

Chapter 4:

In Chapter 4, Weber takes up the task of demonstrating limits of Rawls’ conception of persons and their development. He begins, in the first two sections, by laying out and by partially dismantling Kantian conceptions of freedom and personhood. Recall that Kant posited a noumenal realm of freedom in order to maintain responsibility for persons in the phenomenal world. To this claim, the author opposes Dewey’s critique of “philosophies of freedom”. For Dewey, such philosophies are a mere retread of the Cartesian ego, and they posit too strong a sense of determinism for the phenomenal world.

To correct for this mistake, Dewey undertakes a rehabilitation of inclination and habit. Whereas, for Kant and his intellectual descendants, inclination and habit connote desire and bias and, hence, heteronomy, Dewey holds up reason or inquiry as itself a sort of inclination or habit. For this reason, freedom has neither the conceptual primacy nor centrality which we might accord it. On two further counts, Weber refines Dewey’s challenges. On one hand, phenomenal persons rather noumenal entities endowed with freedom are held responsible for the noumenal entity’s exercise of freedom. Additionally, this again raises the question why phenomenal (real) persons must consent to the outcome of the decisionmaking procedure undertaken by noumenal (hypothetical) persons. On the other, the noumenal entity’s will now appears as an arbitrary outside force for which the phenomenal person must take responsibility, for reasons that remain unclear.

Instead, Dewey suggests, one must shift focus to the future and the ways in which one can secure positive consequences through treating phenomenal persons as responsible beings. This entails seeing freedom as continuous or commensurable with inclination and habit, i.e. as developing from one’s experiences with the latter. In such a way, we arrive at a view on which “the freedom of moral reasoning is a conceptual outgrowth of inquiry into how we can improve the future conditions and behaviors of people” (p. 76). In a word, freedom is neither conceptually nor empirically prior to inclination and habit. Wherefore the emphasis which he places on theories of education:

“Freedom is clearly a central value for moral deliberation and judgment. It must not be considered antecedent to moral situations, however, or as the fundamental priority of the concept of responsibility. Rather, if we are to be sincerely democratic, we must foster in people freedom of thought and inquiry, according to intelligent, practical endeavors. We should also note that inclination must not be divorced so thoroughly from public deliberations. Positing persons who only consider the inclinations acceptable on the Kantian ideal of public reason, furthermore, is no substitute for the real task of fostering in people the proper inclinations for democracy.” (p. 77)

We shall leave aside the question of whether we have reason to speak of a Kantian ideal of public reason (rather than the delimited, public use of reason exposed in “Was ist Auflklärung?”). Instead, focus should remain on the need for education in which the continuity between inclination and freedom comes to the fore.

The kind of being to which we impute such freedom also poses a problem for Dewey and, by extension, Rawls. In truth, Kant commits a grave error, for Dewey, by maintain the subject/object dichotomy. For both subject and object come to co-develop in experience, and this has the further effect of dissolving the divide between theoretical and practical reason. For, if objects are already categorized as such before we exercise theoretical reason and inclinations are continuous with freedom in practical reason, then both are equally products of experience. Accordingly, we must distance ourselves from Kant’s representationalism and those who hew too closely thereto.

The third section attempts to show in what measure Rawls extends Kant’s conceptions of freedom and persons and the dangers which he may risk in doing so. To that end, Weber recalls the three most significant discussions of personhood from Rawls’ work, namely, in TJ, “Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory”, and PL. In the first, Rawls writes of the person that this notion comprises a human life lived according to a plan and specifies the person’s plan as rational when it is consistent with the principles of rational choice and corresponds to that which she would choose under ideal circumstances. This last clause is cause for some concern amongst constructivists in that it may suggest that “the ideal circumstances are not what make the proposition true or false” but “could simply be what get us a clearer picture of the independently true moral facts on this account” (p. 81). (To his credit, Rawls emphasizes in the later works that ideal circumstances themselves generate rather than reflect the correctness of the results of the decisionmaking procedure.) All the same, the lack of clarity on this question reflects the very dilemma which Kant faced.

A third consideration joins the above insofar as Rawls understands the unity of the self or of the person in terms of the right. Indeed, the right would be philosophically prior, on this view, to the unity of the self. The problem lies in the fact that, on a properly constructivist account, “the unity of the self is what unites parts of the sensuous manifold under conceptions” (pp. 81-2). As such, it would only make sense to speak of the right or the concept of justice as being conceptually posterior or subsequent.

“Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory” paints a slightly different picture of the person as Rawls flexes his constructivist muscles, as it were. Apart from the decisionmaking procedure itself, there are no moral facts, and the parties involved in the procedure are responsible for the construction resulting therefrom. Consequently, Rawls envision a constructivism as “a construction within a construction” or a “construction in a thought experiment” (p. 82). Certainly, this much follows from the essay’s presentation of the original position, but the question grows decidedly more complex when Weber goes on affirm that:

“This is to say that it is neither you, nor I, nor society that constructs concepts together in shared experiences. The principles of justice will be constructed by agents of construction whom we imagine to deliberate under ideal circumstances. Seen in this way, how can we make sense of Rawls’s constructivism? The persons involved in Rawls’s final process of the construction of principles of justice, therefore, are not actual people, but rather imagined agents of an idealized construction.” (p. 82)

To his credit, this represents, for Weber, a more accurate formulation of the kind of personhood relevant to the original position, as opposed to his earlier statement at p. 31. As the author suggests, the persons in the original position are “artificial creatures” (PL, p. 28) even though the underlying conception of person is itself unconstructed. That said, Rawls could conceivably turn aside Weber’s contention that it is not you or I who construct by pointing out the way in which you and I construct the constructors (idem.). All hinges on whether we grant a transitive property of the sort.

Still, Weber insists on the fact that this leaves Rawls open to the charge of representationalism:

“[I]n other idealizations constructions, the test for the validity of a concept is in its practical use. The test for the concept is in application of it to solving problems, to rendering more ordered what was troubling or disordered. Rawls does claim that the validity of the principles of justice is grounded instead on procedure itself, not on anything external to the construction This is at odds with an understanding of constructivism as an epistemological notion that arises in Kant’s first Critique.” (p. 83)

In so doing, Rawls would distance himself from the sources to which he ascribes constructivism as an epistemological notion. More importantly, the author addresses at least part of the question with which we closed Chapter 3’s analysis.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: