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Fr. 767

February 24, 2017

Part of the difficulty owes to the deductive role exercised by the original position. An equal share in the difficulty owes to the inductive role carried out by reflective equilibrium, the subject of Weber’s third step in the inquiry and an equal culprit in Rawls’ epistemological incoherence. Here, Weber diverges with O’Neill. While coherentism, as captured in reflective equilibrium, allows for multiple solutions to a given situation, Rawls proceeds very much in view of a singular solution. To that end, Weber cites the passage on reflective equilibrium at TJ, p. 18 and maintains that it demonstrates both a lack of singularity and the presupposition thereof. Although Rawls allows that reflective equilibrium can never reach a definitive arrangement, this does not prevent him from speaking of a “match” between considered judgments and principles of justice.

This quest for singularity erupts in other passages throughout Rawls work, and one need only consider those passages wherein the author cites such notions as correctness, distortion or error. In contrast with the experimental, empirical nature of reflective equilibrium, he seems at times to content himself with the theoretical approach and its cleaner, conservative or even arbitrary consensus. Terms like those cited suggest a neat relation of correspondence for which Rawls has provided no warrant and which the messy nature of political living together would appear to belie. Even Scanlon’s careful retrieval of the notion, between its descriptive and deliberation variants, is seen, by Weber, as further evidence that Rawls himself does not know what to make of reflective equilibrium, adrift from its epistemological moorings, as it were. Weber closes this third step by noting possible objections to his own criticisms but ultimately concludes that Rawls’ constructivism little resembles that in Kant’s transcendental idealism and from which it nominally derives and, moreover, that the decision to appeal to Rawls’ justificatory procedures as opposed to others itself requires justification.

This summary brings Weber to the concluding fourth step in which he sets out to reframe objectivity as an objective to be achieved rather than a relation between inquiry and an independent object. Indeed, rejecting representationalism does not amount to rejecting objectivity, for the latter is capable of an articulation independent of the former. For elaboration on this point, Weber appeals to Dewey and begins by showing the importance of objectivity for various domains, centering on reliability.

That said, reliability does not exhaust the notion of objectivity relevant to instances of moral conflict and deliberation. Accordingly, objectivity therein appears as “developing out of a need for avoiding certain sorts of decision-making” (p. 106) as opposed to a mind-independence thesis and issues in a view on which “objectivity would involve decision-making that avoids unwarranted bias or prejudgment” (idem.). If, to this point, Rawls might well side with this constructivist position, the difficulty lies rather in his way of understanding correct versus erroneous judgments.

Weber seems to suggest that Rawls is unable to conceive of a difference in contexts such that some allow for greater subjectivity or objectivity. Leaving this point aside, he goes on to explain in what way robust constructivism secures a sense of objectivity beyond that limited to the physical sciences. Differing social or political hypothesis might be susceptible of “differing likelihoods of confirmation” (p. 107); other social experiments might “be understood as a development toward an objective of avoiding the consequences of undemocratic tyranny” (idem.). What both seem to share is the understanding of objectivity as a construct of historical and social experience, showing a continuity between scientific and moral endeavors and across different areas of inquiry. More specifically, this version of objectivity consists in “the notion that whoever engages in a given inquiry will have to contend with certain aspects of features of the subject matter” (p. 108). He continues:

“Those aspects that he or she cannot avoid are the objective elements of that inquiry. In the realm of ethics, we find this sort of objectivity insofar as certain elements of experience are unavoidable. In the case of the objectivity of the judge in the court of law, we are speaking of an objectivity that is demanded by our laws due to historical experience and problems. That sort of objectivity is not impossible on a Deweyan constructivist model. Rather, it is objectivity that is adopted as an objective, as a goal. It thereafter becomes a criterion for judges and actors insofar as the law demands any person, acting or judging, not make decisions on the basis of prejudgments” (idem.).

On this reading of objectivity, its relevant features then become that which presents itself as object to the person leading the inquiry. Less schematically, we might say that this broadens the field of objective considerations to factors which may before have been considered merely subjective. It would thus allow for an instructive recalibration, as it were, of the notions of truth and objectivity. Moreover, objectives have the advantage of being more or less available to all as themselves objects of inquiry and deliberation. We can point to objectivist procedures or features more easily than we might gesture at objectivity tout court. (Weber proposes law as one such example.)

Weber concludes the chapter by remarking that Dewey’s constructivism exceeds Rawls’ as more than “a theory of the formation of beliefs or principles” (p. 109). Instead, it aims to provide “a theory of the formation of concepts generally and of meaning” on which “the basic aspects of experience of qualitative” (idem.). Nor are values strictly divorced from facts in that they are part and parcel of one’s experience thereof. This step is precisely that which separates Rawls from a robust constructivism. In order to preserve reflective equilibrium on such a constructivism, it would prove necessary to distance oneself from the notions of correctness and erroneousness so as to focus the good as “the best that we can achieve with our intelligent efforts to be moral and just” (p. 110), a goal which Rawls only meets halfway. On such a view, the goal of politics then “is a process of reconciling these outcomes of varied experience” (idem.) as opposed to mere principles or judgments, for which further experimentation and education are required.

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