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Rawls and subject 3

March 8, 2017
  • Judgments

Rawls takes care to elaborate the qualities of both competent moral judges and considered moral judgments made by those judges. He recognizes as qualities belonging to the class of competent judges: 1.) standard intelligence; 2.) everyday knowledge, both factual and causal; 3.) willingness to reason, deliberate and reconsider, as well as to counter one’s own biases; 4.) sympathy either through previous experience, imaginative projection or identification with each person’s interest[1]. Taken together, these qualities describe a morally competent person whom one is likely to have encountered at some point in life. Indeed, so general are these qualities that one may wonder precisely what Rawls has contributed beyond a specific set thereof[2].

Yet this first set of qualities cannot be taken independently of the whole in which it is inscribed. Nor should it be separated from the second set, the class of considered moral judgments, which lays out the qualities of judgments made by competent moral judges. These qualities include: 1.) judge’s immunity from consequences; 2.) judge’s integrity or impartiality; 3.) judge’s decision of actual, rather than hypothetical, cases; 4.) careful inquiry and fair opportunity for a hearing; 5.) judge’s certitude; 6.) decision’s stability between different judges and times; 7.) judge’s intuitive judgment rather than application of principles[3]. As for the first set, one might remark that several the qualities listed here show little in the way of original thinking. Yet 7.) will prove particularly vital for the transition to the second phase of the exposition listed above.

  • Principles

With both sets of qualities now in place, Rawls is able to explain why it is important to keep those considered judgments free from the application of principles. For, in order to formulate and to test principles capable of explaining those judgments, it first proves necessary to elaborate principles and judgments independently of one another. Only in this way can principles retain justificatory power over the judgments, that is, either to validate or to invalidate them.

The reason for [restricting judgment to intuitive judgments] will be evident if one keeps in mind the aim of the present inquiry, namely, to describe a decision procedure whereby principles, by means of which we may justify specific moral decisions, may themselves be shown to be justifiable. Now part of this procedure will consist in showing that these principles are implicit in the considered judgments of competent judges[4].

Were the initial judgments derived from principles, the latter would lose the theoretical independence which secures the conditions of validation or invalidation. More simply still, the principles could not help but validate the judgments which followed from them.

If those judgments are “the considered judgments of competent judges as these are made from day to day on the moral issues which continually arise”, then what Rawls seeks is a satisfactory explication of that class of judgments[5]. Here, “explication” designates a “heuristic device which is likely to yield reasonable and justifiable principles” or, more precisely, “a set of principles, such that, if any competent man were to apply them intelligently and consistently to the same cases under review, his judgments, made systematically nonintuitive by the explicit and conscious use of the principles, would be, nevertheless, identical, case by case, with the considered judgments of the group of competent judgments”[6]. Wherefore the importance of defining the relevant class of judgments beforehand. Indeed, that class can now serve as an exemplar which principles arrived at through the process of explication must approximate.

That said, at no point is the entire class up for explication by a single principle. Instead, the author adds, it will first be necessary to determine the explication’s “range”: “The range of an explication is specified by stating precisely those judgments which it is designed to explicate, and any given explication which successfully explicates its specified range is satisfactory”[7]. Indeed, one should not expect that a candidate principle arrived at through application will adequately explain all judgments; it will be necessary to specify those judgments to which it is to apply. Should a principle fail to explicate those judgments to which it applies, this necessitates that the explication be reworked. Likewise, should a principle succeed in explicating judgments outside of its specified range, this fact merits further examination. All in all, explication can only succeed relative to the end which it sets itself, i.e. explication of a given set of judgments by a certain principle.

The notion of range established, Rawls can turn to both negative and positive means for determining the content of explication. Notably, an explication is neither 1.) analysis of meaning nor concepts nor is it concerned with 2.) the intentions behind ethical expressions; an explication does not aim at 3.) “the actual causes of the considered judgments of competent judges”, “sharply distinguish[ing] it from a psychological or sociological study of moral judgments”[8]. In addition, he notes that the only manner of proving an explication unsatisfactory “is to show that there exist considered judgments of competent judges on specifiable cases for which it either fails to yield any judgments at all or leads one to make judgments inconsistent with them”, echoing his statements on the explication’s range[9]. More importantly, this last point hints at that which will determine the adequacy of principles to considered judgments under explication: fitness or coherence.

As to explication’s positive elements, these prove three in number: an explication must 1.) be worded in ordinary language; 2.) take the form of principles or general directives; 3.) apply uniformly and with simplicity to all relevant considered judgments[10]. The combination of these factors inevitably lends the explication the form of an “attempt to express the invariant in the considered judgments of competent judges”[11]. This search for the invariant issues in ethics’ highest task, per Rawls, “the formulation of justifiable principles which may be used in cases wherein there are conflicting interests to determine which one of them should be given preference”[12]. With this, the author touches upon the question of justification for the first time; this question runs through his later work and, consequently, the rest of this chapter.

[1] CP, pp. 2-3.

[2] Indeed, one will find much the same qualities in Stout’s discussion of deliberation and conversational virtues in Chapter 2. Furthermore, Rawls himself will modify certain of these, namely 3.) and 4.), as required by the presentation of the original position, for which no determinate knowledge of ourselves or personal information can play a role in the deliberation. This may represent an important development in his approach: depersonalizing the parties to deliberation so that they might more easily approximate the position of competent judges. That said, such knowledge may still play a role in the later stages of the four-stage sequence or even in the three-part justification. But there will be reason to return to this below, in sections 3 and 4 respectively.

[3] CP, pp. 5-6. Again, certain of these qualities will come up for revision at the time of developing the original position. It is difficult to imagine Rawls holding 3.) as pertinent for the representational device of the original position, particularly with regards to statements like the following: “Thus, all judgments on hypothetical cases are excluded. In addition, it is preferable that the case be not especially difficult and be one that is likely to arise in ordinary life.” (CP, p. 5).

[4] CP, p. 6.

[5] CP, p. 7.

[6] Idem.

[7] Idem.

[8] CP, p. 8. Notably, 3.) suggests why, for Rawls, objectivity in decisionmaking procedures takes an impersonal form and may prefigure this aspect of the original position.

[9] CP, pp. 8-9.

[10] CP, p. 9.

[11] CP, p. 9. This statement may recall Rawls’ analogy between principles and grammaticalness (TJ, p. 41)  insofar as he seeks something initially fixed or invariant in our judgments which we might then apply as a check on instances of judgment. Certainly, this check does not take the form of mere application through reason conceived as Verstand, for Rawls introduces flexibility to the check by allowing the person to revise that invariant at all levels of generality. So are both terms of the equation defeasible. See Scanlon and Daniels

[12] CP, pp. 9-10.

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