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Rawls and subject 37

May 22, 2017

For a person affirming the religious comprehensive doctrine above, that doctrine’s conceptual resources can make sense of and affirm at least the first principle of justice, establishing equal liberty. Whether those resources extend to the affirmation of the second principle of justice, establishing equal opportunity, remains to be seen. As to the political conception’s basic ideas, we can imagine a religious doctrine affirming a conception of the free and equal moral person as well as that of society as a joint venture. All in all, it seems that a person affirming this religious doctrine could find the necessary resources to meet the criteria of depth and specificity, if not breadth[1].

For a person affirming the liberal moral doctrine above, that doctrine’s conceptual resources will more easily facilitate the person’s making sense and affirmation of the political conception. Both agree on the need for a liberty principle like Rawls’, and the liberal moral doctrine could conceivably make room for a difference principle. In this second case, it thus seems that the person affirming the liberal moral doctrine could find the necessary resources to meet the criteria of depth, breadth and specificity.

As to the third case, for a person affirming a pluralist doctrine, that doctrine’s heterogenous conceptual resources render the full justification at once easier and harder. By that, we mean that, if it proves difficult to maintain with any certainty whether the person holding an indeterminate make-up and balance of reasons will affirm the political conception’s basic ideas, full scope or details on the basis thereof, that very indeterminateness may more readily dispose the person to embrace tolerance and, at least, affirm the liberty principle and the primary goods of the difference principle. In such a way, the person affirming the pluralist doctrine may dispose either of an inherent disposition towards tolerance or the conceptual resources necessary to meet the criteria of depth, breadth and specificity.

In reality, this last case proves all the more striking for the way in which it brings to the fore the fundamental tension surrounding Rawls’ political sociology and his presentation of persons and comprehensive doctrines therein. To return to the question of political sociology, recall that Rawls contends that each person affirms one comprehensive doctrine all while allowing that this doctrine may only be partially comprehensive, in the sense that the religious, philosophical doctrine may not cover all possible values. Certainly, the third example is partially comprehensive in this sense, but, moreover, it takes on a pluralist character, beyond what “partially comprehensive” otherwise suggests. More precisely, this partially comprehensive doctrine would seem to allow for a situation in which it includes elements from different comprehensive doctrines: “each subpart of this family has its own account based on ideas drawn from within it” (PL, p. 145).

If we draw attention to this point, it follows from the need to set our ideas straight on how we are to understand the standpoint which the person assumes in full justification. And such a need follows from passages such as following wherein Rawls appears to discount just such a pluralist comprehensive doctrine:

Consider the political sociology of a reasonable overlapping consensus: since there are far less doctrines than citizens, the latter may be grouped according to the doctrine they hold. More important than the simplification allowed by this numerical fact is that citizens are members of various associations into which, in many cases, they are born, and from which they usually, though not always, acquire their comprehensive doctrines (IV:6). The doctrines that different associations hold and propagate—as examples, think of religious associations of all kinds—play a basic social role in making public justification possible. This is how citizens may acquire their comprehensive doctrines. Moreover, these doctrines have their own life and history apart from their current members and endure from one generation to the next. The consensus of these doctrines is importantly rooted in the character of various associations and this is a basic fact about the political sociology of a democratic regime – crucial in providing a deep and enduring basis for its social unity (PL, 389-90).

 

[1] One might bemoan the little time which Rawls gives over to fleshing out his account of the interaction between the political conception and religious comprehensive doctrines in full justification in view of an overlapping consensus. He does invoke a religious example in this Lecture (cf. PL, pp. 148-9), but the example is historical and only bears on a prior modus vivendi. For a more thorough treatment of religion and full justification, closer attention should be paid to “Public Reason Revisited” in CP, pp. ___

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