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Rawls and subject 47

June 5, 2017

Regardless, the end result may be summarized as follows. The political conception and associated standpoint(s) abstain from knowledge of or judgment on the express claims of comprehensive doctrines for three reasons: 1.) the political conception and associated standpoint(s) are self-limiting; 2.) such knowledge or judgment may undermine the chances for social cooperation; 3.) such knowledge or judgment may induce political bargaining and sap the moral quality of the overlapping consensus, thereby rendering it a mere modus vivendi[1]. In this way, the political conception and associated standpoint(s) insulate themselves from controversial truth-claims which may undermine their neutrality, their stability or their moral status. More simply, these characteristics may be found in the political conception’s freestanding character.

This leaves the question of whether the reasonable citizen standpoint more resembles the citizen or the individual standpoint with regards to public justification[2]. Recall that the citizen standpoint issues truth-claims to the status of neither political conception nor comprehensive doctrines. In contrast, individual standpoint may issue truth-claims to the status of the political conception, but, given a lack of decisive evidence one way or another, the presumption stands against its making truth-claims about comprehensive doctrines. Insofar as the standpoint implicit in public justification at once bears on the mutual accounting of others’ affirming the political conception of justice and precludes the person from considering others’ comprehensive doctrines, the reasonable citizen standpoint seems in greater proximity to the citizen standpoint than the individual. Accordingly, if we may, from within the individual standpoint, express the mutual accounting during the phase of public justification as confirmation of the political conception’s truth, we may only, from the reasonable citizen standpoint, see such as confirmation of its reasonability.

Finally, this characterization may also explain Rawls’ insistence that the public justification of political conception of justice does not depend on comprehensive doctrines. Insofar as the express content lies outside of the mutual accounting, i.e. persons do not know which elements of the comprehensive doctrine bring others to affirm the political conception, their mutual accounting deploys no content therefrom. Put somewhat differently, the person could not be seen to justify the political conception on the basis of arguments of which she lacks knowledge, for one cannot unknowingly justify a principle, judgment or set thereof. Instead, she takes them as mere or brute facts, as Rawls makes clear in a footnote to the passage on public justification:

Here I assume that the existence of reasonable comprehensive doctrines and of their forming an overlapping consensus are facts about the political and cultural nature of a pluralist democratic society, and these facts can be used like any other such facts. Reference to these facts, or making assumptions about them, is not reliance on the religious, metaphysical, or moral contents of such doctrines (PL, n. 20, p. 387)[3].

This ignorance does not prevent them from enjoying the broader justification which the overlapping consensus might bring:

[I]f any of the reasonable comprehensive doctrines in the existing overlapping consensus is true, then the political conception itself is true, or close thereto in the sense of being endorsed by a true doctrine. The truth of any one doctrine guarantees that all doctrines yield the right conception of political justice, even though all are not right for the right reasons as given by the one true doctrine. So, as we have said, when citizens differ, not all can be fully correct; yet if one of their doctrines should be true, all citizens are correct, politically speaking (PL, n. 19, pp. 153-4)[4].

In this way can the reasonable citizen standpoint accede to a point wherefrom, at worst, the bases for social cooperation and moral consensus are preserved and, at best, the political conception indirectly proves to be true. Yet more needs be said on the worst case scenario. Indeed, the way in which public justification secures the bases for social cooperation and moral consensus cannot be separated from its answer to the third of our questions, that of stability for the right reasons.

[1] Of these, 2.) will prove most important for Jeffrey Stout’s counterposition, to follow in Chapters 4 and 5.

[2] It also leaves the question whether, outside of the political conception of justice’s full justification, persons qua individual (or some other conception) might issue truth-claims as to other comprehensive doctrines.

[3] One might similarly point to the existence of water to justify a statement about the world without requiring in the least knowledge about water’s chemical properties.

[4] See also PL, p. 128 for a similar statement.

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