JKSCHW at aol.com JKSCHW at aol.com
Mon Jan 31 13:02:21 PST 2000

The long and short of it, Ken, is that you think that Rawls is a second rate bourgeois ideologist whose theory is so defective that only its former utility for justifying welfarist capitalism explains why anyone gave it a second glance. You have obviously read Rawls, so I guess you are entitled to your view, but I find it mysterious. I think Rawls is one of the giants of political philosophy, in the neighborhood of Mill, certainly at least Mill's strictly political theory.

Rawl's views are flawed, but all political philosophy is subject to objections, except (as Charles Brown points out) Marx's, because Marx is dialectical. Rawls has presented the most completely developed articulation we have of the intuition that justice is freedom from arbitrariness and contingency. He has saved social "contract" theory from imaginary history, and given us a Kantian ethic without all of Kant's bad noumenal nonsense. He showed that you can reject utilitarianism without lapsing into unargued and unprincipled talk about moral intution. He developed, in his reflective equilibrium theory, the best account we have of a pragmatic (I would say the true) theory of knowledge. His account of the content and implications of the "two" (really three) principles of justice is still probably the best statement of a liberal political philosophy we have, leaving aside his argument for it.

But Rawls really doesn't need my defense. I say about Rawls what Marx said of Hegel, that you shouldn't treat him as a dead dog. You don't have to agree with him, and I often don't, but by God you have to respect him. Or so I think. Ken doesn't, I don't know what to say.

> A while ago you wrote that Two Concepts of Rules represented pre-Rawls Rawls whatever that is supposed to mean.

I meant that in 1955, Rawls had not developed the notion of Justice as Fairness that he expresses in Theory of Justice and for which he is known. The paper you refer to is a fine paper, but it does npt represent R's views as of, say, the last 35 years.

> His hypothetical choice theory is ahistorical. He imagines what would happen if rational egoists were to choose principles of justice behind a veil of ignorance. Surely that is ahistorical wbether or not it applies only in certain historical circumstances.

No, because it only applies in certain historical circumstances. Rawls says the theory is justified sort of ahistorically, but that isn't say that he thinks history doesn't matter.

> I have
> never understood the relevance of the theory to here-and-now agents. Real agents do not choose behind a veil of ignorance. They know their talents, situation, class, status, etc. Why on earth should
> they give a crap what they would do if there were in Rawls' hypothetical situation? Why would they not choose principles of justice that advance their interests as indeed those with power do?

I have argued that Rawls theory is defective for this reason, more or less, although I focus on the difference between its supposed force in a well ordered society as opposed to ours, rather than the force of the reasoning from within the original position as opposed to out of it.
> So is Nozick's later work communitarian.Can't we ignore later Rawls as Post-Rawls Rawls:)

Is Nozick now a sort of communitarian? I hadn't noticed.

> Rawls theory and socialism may be compatible but given the historical circumstances the theory's main practical effect would be to justify liberal intervention in a capitalistic economy and also bourgois democratic ideals.

Well, I'm a big fan of bourgeois democratic ideals myself, so I don't think that is a problem. Anyway, you mighta s well say, Marx may be compatible with a libertarian socialism, but given the historical realities, his main practical effect is to provide a gloss for Stalinism.

> The hypothetical choice of principles of justice assume a Caspar Milquetoast verison of rational economic individuals not indifferent to the effects of distributions on their own welfare.

And, so? Rawls rightly rejects Sandel's claim that he thinks we are like the parties to the original position.

>>Rawls thinks that means that the "natural distribution" of whatever (talent, wealth, etc.) has no moral claim to be respected whatsoever. If things "happen" to be unjust, we have to rearrange things so that they are just.
> So what is the natural distribution of whatever? For example raspberries.Some people have them because they stole them, some because they bought them, some because they picked them in the wild. Which of these are natural? Why? Have none of these any moral claim to justice or entitlement?

To be precise, Rawls talks about the natural distribution of talents, which end up in different people because of genetics, naturally in that sense. Rawls thinks that pace the libertarians, we shouldn't distribute goodies according to talents alone.

Now, if by raspberries you mean wealth, Rawls thinks that these should be distributed, or arther thats ocoety should be organized so that they get distributed, to accord with the difference principle, so that any inequalities benefit the least well off. The fact that of the raspberries we may have, some were stolem some picked, and some bought, is quite irrelevant to him.

> If there can be no moral claim made about the natural distribution then you cannot claim that the distribution is unjust can you?

Right, that is why we cannot say that it is unfair that you are smarter than I but I am stronger than you. For R, what would be unfair is if either if us good more goodies solely because he were smarter or stronger.

> Well I do agree that we ought to do something about arbitrary contingencies that disadvantage people. I am not sure I would lump all that we ought to do in that respect "justice".

That's fair enough.

> Rawls is trendy in drawing upon
> Kant, the contract tradition, game theory, and even some standard economic concepts such as efficiency,
> in order to justify basic bourgeois rights

I would have thought the word would be "pathbreaking,' "visionary," "creative." He _made_ those trends.

> but he also justifies inequalities through the difference principle. The trickle down theory of capitalist productivity fit perfectly with the difference principle.

Not perfectly. Trickle down says that _any_ inequalities are justified if they benefit _anyone_ who is less well off than the best off. Rawls _limits_ inequalities of wealth to the amount that can be justified by making the least well off better off. Any inequality must benefit the least well off.

What's wrong with that? Is the problem that you think that as a matter of fact, no inequalities benefit the least well off? That the least well off would be best off in if we all had exactly the same amount of wealth? If that were true, then Rawls would reject any inequality.

> > Scarcely in the background is the concept of Pareto Optimality. He is not one of those nasty crude utility monsters trying to maximize the greatest good and using people as means to ends!

Rawls is quite clear that his theory does not reduce to Pareto optimality. Many distributions, he says, are efficient in the Pareto sense but unjust.

> Rawls may mean [that his theory would jsutify socialism] but Rawls influence is primarily as a ideological justification of liberal democracy andliberal capitalism.

As I say, the first is OK by me. As to the second, so? Used to be that Marx's influence was primarily the justification of Stalinism. You can't judge a theory by its ideological misuses.

Utilitarianism has been under attack since at least the time of Bentham. Ross is a good example,Blanshard, Ewing, Mabbot. There are scads of anti-utilitarians.

Yeahm but there were none in liberal political philosophy of any weight in the 50s and 60s. The guys you list were all two generations before that. And Ross is the only first rate mind aming them, and he did pure ethics, not political philosophy.

Rawls is of interest as
> presenting a theory that can be seen as an ideological justification of liberal capitalism and democracy.
> I see him as such because there are so many glaring faults in his theory that it is difficult to fathom why he sould be given such stature unless he is understood as having the prime ideological role.

Says you. I says different. --jks

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