24 Ratio Juris 1 (2011)

handle is hein.journals/raju24 and id is 1 raw text is: 



Ratio Juris. Vol. 24 No. 1 March 2011 (1-24)


Rawls's Political Liberalism.

A Reassessment


MARTHA NUSSBAUM*


Abstract. Since Rawls's Political Liberalism is by now the subject of a wide and deep
philosophical literature, much of it excellent in quality, it would be foolhardy to
attempt to say something about  each of the major issues of the work, or to sort
through debates that can easily be located elsewhere. I have therefore decided to
focus on a small number of issues where there is at least some chance that a fresh
approach  may  yield some  new  understanding  of the text: Rawls's distinction
between  reasonable and unreasonable  comprehensive  doctrines; the psycho-
logical underpinnings  of political liberalism; and the possibility that political
liberalism might be extended beyond the small group of modern Western societies
that Rawls's historical remarks suggest as its primary focus. I also include a
discussion of the much-debated  issue of civility and public reason, which could
hardly be avoided given its prominence in the book's reception. This paper should
therefore be read not as a comprehensive account of the work but as one person's
attempt to grapple, very incompletely and imperfectly, with a book that is as great
as any philosophy has seen on this topic of great human urgency.


1. The  Main  Ideas

At  the heart of Rawls  argument   are two  closely related ideas: the idea of
respect (or equal  respect) and the  idea of fair terms of cooperation.  As
Charles  Larmore  has  observed  in an important   essay, these ideas, though
nowhere   subjected  to sustained  analysis in their own  right, shape  [his]
thought  at the deepest level. Any attempt  to make  sense of his conception
must  trace  their ramifications and  grasp  the  overall conception  they

* A different (and much longer) version of this paper will appear in Rawls' Political Liberalism,
edited by Thom Brooks and Martha Nussbaum, Columbia University Press. I am extremely
grateful to Daniel Brudney, Charles Larmore, Henry S. Richardson, David Strauss, and Paul
Weithman for their valuable comments on an earlier draft, and especially to my graduate
students Chad Flanders, Daniel Groll, Jeffrey Israel, Jennifer Johnson, Ryan Long, and Micah
Lott for their extremely careful attention to a draft and the hours of discussion they were
willing to devote to it, at the busiest time of their academic year. Needless to say, none of these
people can be presumed to agree with what I say here.

D 2011 The Author. Ratio Juris D 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main
Street, Malden 02148, USA.

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