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Objectivity and Justice

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Just a brief quote today, from John Rawls.

"To say that a political conviction is objective is to say that there are reasons, specified by a reasonable and mutually recognizable political conception (satisfying those essentials) sufficient to convince all reasonable persons that it is reasonable."

Yes, in context Rawls had also listed the "essentials" to which he makes reference here. But we don't need them for today's point. I think this illustrates the sort of circular reasoning to which constructivists in moral philosophy often fall prey.

This is part of the argument behind his theory of justice as a matter of the principles that would be adopted behind a veil of ignorance by, yes, reasonable people.

The problem is that such work ends up presuming in a word like "reasonable" the whole of its eventual conclusions. So ... my theory is in accord with reason because it is the one with which reasonable people would agree. The people who do agree with it are known to be the reasonable ones because ... obviously ... they agree with my theory!


  1. I see no basis for your statement that the people who agree with the political conviction to which Rawls refers are known to be reasonable because they agree with the conviction. (I use Rawls' term, "conviction," rather than yours, "theory.") I think that we should not impute such a gross error to Rawls, but rather should assume that he would apply an independent standard of reasonableness. Presumably, he would first use this independent standard to identify "all reasonable persons" (quite a task, admittedly) and then ask them whether the political conviction convinces them.

    I am troubled, however, by the phrase, "specified by a reasonable and mutually recognizable political conception." I don't know what it means for reasons to be specified by a political conception; this notion is too abstract for me to understand. And Rawls doesn't say how he determines that the political conception is "reasonable." But perhaps if I read the paragraph you quote in context, it would be less problematic.


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