Civic friendship and a value assumption in Rawls.


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In the late twentieth century, John Rawls reinvigorated the social contract theory in political philosophy. Previous contract theories could not explain how those bound by the social contract consent to be bound. Rawls argues that we consent to the contract hypothetically. If we would agree, under ideal conditions for resolving questions about the basic structure of society, to a particular social contract, then we actually consent (in the relevant sense) to the contract. With this understanding of consent in mind, Rawls argues in two stages. First, he argues to the original position – arguing that his original position thought experiment represents the ideal conditions for resolving questions about the basic structure of society. Subsequently, Rawls argues from the original position - parties in the original position would agree to two principles of justice which he names justice as fairness. If both arguments are sound, then all of us give our hypothetical consent to the terms of the social contract spelled out by justice as fairness. This dissertation argues that these arguments cannot both be sound. I approach Rawls’ work with a specific concern – in modern American society, discourse has become increasingly uncivil. This background condition gives rise to inquiry into civic friendship – how citizens might wish their anonymous fellow-citizens well and thus give rise to more amicable social conditions. Rawlsian liberalism helps adapt an Aristotelian conception of civic friendship to modern conditions of the pluralistic nation-state. Yet this conception of civic friendship has certain important limitations. Rawls designs the original position carefully – controversial assumptions may prevent people from acknowledging it as the ideal position, undermining the argument to the original position. But the argument from the original position requires the parties to select principles of justice from among a slate of options. This selection, like all acts, requires some ascription of value by the actor. In Rawls’ arguments, the parties assume that fulfilling the rational desires of persons is choiceworthy. This is inconsistent with the requirement that the original position avoid controversial assumptions. The argument to the original position and the argument from the original position cannot both be sound.



John Rawls. Contract theory. Social contracts.