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Rawls and subject 29

May 10, 2017

One last interpretative difficulty remains for the citizen standpoint, namely its relation to the “point of view of citizen in a well-ordered society”[1]. As the author indicates, the point of view of the citizen in a well-ordered society is part of the political conception of justice as fairness in that the concept of a well-ordered society is worked out within the framework of justice as fairness. Notably, the well-ordered society entails three things: 1.) all accept and are known to accept the same principles of justice; 2.) society’s basic structure is known or believed to satisfy those principles; 3.) society’s citizens have an effective sense of justice such that they comply with the basic structure’s institutions[2]. The combination of these factors issues in a society wherein “the publicly recognized conception of justice establishes a shared point of view from which citizen’s claims on society can be adjudicated”[3].

Any attempt to identify the point of view of citizen in a well-ordered society with what we have dubbed the citizen standpoint runs the risk of conflating the political conception of justice as fairness with other possible liberal political conceptions. For the persons occupying the citizen standpoint do not necessarily accept the principles of justice laid out in the political conception of justice as fairness. Rather, there may be at issue diverse political conceptions, with their attendant principles of political justice, belonging to a family of liberal political conceptions; there may arise the need for adjudication between them. In contrast with the point of view of citizen in a well-ordered society, the citizen standpoint is logically prior to the acceptance of justice as fairness. Such acceptance may well result therefrom. Put differently, although public reason is articulated from within the framework of justice as fairness, accepting public reason as an ideal for political discourse does not entail accepting justice as fairness as a whole.

This point concludes our exposition of pro tanto justification, public reason and the citizen standpoint. If we go no further with public reason, this owes to the fact that public reason stands as but one half of the answer to the question “How is it possible that deeply opposed though reasonable comprehensive doctrines may live together and all affirm the political conception of a constitutional regime?”. Though the political values in terms of which the citizen standpoint and pro tanto justification proceed carry considerable weight in political discourse, they do not tell the whole story. For those values and public reason can be overridden, and it proves necessary to supplement them in order to close that gap:

Beyond this, the political values realized by a well-ordered constitutional regime are very great values and not easily overridden and the ideals they express are not to be lightly abandoned. Thus, when the political conception is supported by an overlapping consensus of reasonable comprehensive doctrines, the paradox of public reason [i.e. that the person justifies the most important matters independently of what she sees as the whole truth] disappears. The union of the duty of civility with the great values of the political yields the ideal of citizens governing themselves in ways that each thinks the others might reasonably be expected to accept; and this ideal in turn is supported by the comprehensive doctrines reasonable persons affirm. Citizens affirm the ideal of public reason, not as a result of political compromise, as in a modus vivendi, but from within their own reasonable doctrines[4].

The duty of civility enjoins persons to further the ideal of public reason by all means necessary, including through the support of their comprehensive doctrines. Such support brings the second half of the answer to the question at the root of Political Liberalism and is the subject of the following section.


[1] Introduced at PL, p. 28.

[2] PL, p. 35.

[3] Idem.

[4] PL, p. 218.

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