Thursday, 3 January 2013

Rawls on Freedom and Equality

In my last posting I looked at and provided an exegetical reading of Rawls' first lecture on Kantian constructivism as published in The Journal of Philosophy. In this posting I turn to the second of Rawls' lectures in which he turns from the discussion of autonomy to the views of freedom and equality and how these features of the person are represented in the original position. This lecture also features an extended account of the notion of publicity and its place within a Kantian view.

Rawls opens this second piece however by returning to the "model-conception" of a well-ordered society. In returning to this Rawls points out that the model-conceptions he is discussing are special cases of even more general notions but he does not here undertake to determine the way of describing the latter. A well-ordered society is a self-sufficient association which strives to perpetuate itself but is also a closed system. It is viewed as productive, that is, as giving itself its own means of support and not, as is the case in some utopias, as essentially not in need of labour. The "circumstances of justice" under which it exists are both subjective and objective. The objective form of these is that there is moderate scarcity, the subjective form is that there exists contrary conceptions of the good within the society. Despite the subjective circumstances of justice the citizens of the well-ordered society take their institutions to satisfy their public conception of justice. This point is introduced as the manner in which we can both understand the way that citizens are able to have a dual view of justice and as the basis for a distinction between different levels of the notion of publicity.

Rawls distinguishes three levels of publicity. The first level is in terms of the principles of justice. These principles of justice meet the conditions of institutions defined in Theory. They are accepted by all and the knowledge that they are is itself general. They are also supported by the general consensus beliefs held and so buttressed in an epistemic way by "common sense". Since Rawls is working throughout with the conception of a modern democratic society this includes the methods and practices of scientific inquiry and its findings when taken to be settled. The final level of publicity includes the "complete" justification of the public conception of justice which is also taken to be fully known or at least publicly available. This "full justification" includes the connection between the model-conceptions of the person and social cooperation. A "full publicity condition" is met when a well-ordered society meets all these conditions. Such a full condition expresses fair terms of cooperation and is hence Reasonable.

The full condition is also one that is appropriate, according to Rawls, for the restricted purposes of political justice and may be less compelling for other moral notions. Given the principles of justice apply to the political constitution and to all basic institutions, and that such can shape the character and aims of the members of society, the fundamental terms of this cooperation should answer to the requirements of "full" publicity. When institutions are capable of answering to such requirements citizens can account for their beliefs in them in such a way that their account will strengthen the institutions themselves. Publicity thus ensures that free and equal persons are in a position to accept the background social influences that shape their conception of themselves as persons.

For many other moral notions public agreement cannot be reached so consensus is limited in scope to the public moral constitution and its associated terms of cooperation. With regard to public questions ways of reasoning and forms of evidence have to be presented in such a way that they are generally accessible. The conception of a well-ordered society applies to the notions of the good held by citizens the principle of liberty (effectively toleration) held previously by religion alone. The basis for this is precisely due to the role of publicity in the justification of the principles of justice.

Parties to the construction of the original position assess conceptions of justice subject to the constraint that their principles can be public conceptions. The basic level of publicity cannot be met unless there is agreement on rules of evidence and forms of reasoning and these must be limited to those allowed by forms of reasoning as given to "common sense". Unless this stipulation is made no agreement is possible. So, whilst particular views of the good may hold certain institutions and policies to be wrong, the holding of them lacks public force if it does not meet these criteria of common sense (or public reason). Agreement within the original condition is thus not just on principles of justice but also on the ways of reasoning and rules of weighing evidence. The subjective circumstances of justice thus determine ways in which agreement can be articulated.

The second level of publicity concerns the way that general beliefs of social theory and moral psychology enter which is as publicly known to the parties to the construction. Citizens are aware of the factors that support the principles of justice as stated in forms that are common. This does not mean all factors that might support such beliefs are admissible within the process of reasoning since those which belong to controversial doctrines or are stated in ways which cannot avoid such controversy are not public doctrines in Rawls' sense. The articulation of the agreed principles of justice is not required to overcome the subjective circumstances of justice. Rather, it is assumed that only coercion could overcome such circumstances and this would subvert the point of reaching agreement. 

Rawls' careful articulation of public doctrines does not require decision on the truth of the doctrines disallowed public roles. It does however play a role in indicating that whilst fundamental disagreement may never be overcome that such disagreement need not have adverse effects in society. The fundamental principles need to be justified in ways that are impartial to the differences within society if the subjective circumstances of justice are to be respected. 

Only after these points about publicity and public reasoning have been stated does Rawls turn to the account of freedom and equality that is the principal purpose of the second part of his treatment. Moral persons were argued in the first part to be moved by higher-order interests to exercise moral powers. Within a well-ordered society citizens are free in the sense that they hold themselves entitled to make claims on the design of social institutions. Such claims are based on the self-conception persons have within this society which is that they take themselves to be self-originating sources of valid claims.  A second aspect of freedom is that free persons recognize each other as having the moral power to form and articulate a conception of the good. Following from this second element of freedom is that citizens, as citizens, are assumed to have a reflective capacity to reflect on and to alter any final ends they have. Another way of putting this second element of freedom is that the citizens are essentially independent of the particular conceptions of the good they espouse since their public identity is not dependent on any particular such view. In private life such a conception does not apply since privately we take our views to be integral to our identity but this does not affect the public ideal of social cooperation.

Returning to the notion of a well-ordered society Rawls next states that we assume in this that citizens are fully cooperating members of it over the course of their life so the ideal of it does not include special conditions that prevent this being actualized at given times. This helps to make clearer the notion of equality that is here being worked with which states that the public conception of justice is one that all are capable of honouring and of being participants in. All are thus viewed as equally worthy of being represented in any procedure that determines the principles of justice that regulate the basic institutions of society. This does not mean that we don't allow, in the structure of the society, for the fact that some, by virtue of special abilities, may be better qualified to hold offices and positions but only that all, as equal citizens, are assumed to have a sense of justice that is equally sufficient relative to what is required of them.

Rawls next returns to the original position and observes that within it the two powers of moral persons are represented formally as, for example, we do not here give any specific content to the sense of justice possessed to parties within it. So the first power means here only that all participants can follow the most reasonable conception of justice. The second capacity is similarly presented formally meaning that the parties are assumed to be able to have a sense of the good. But parties are also here determinate persons in the sense that both these powers would, after the removal of the veil of ignorance, have specific content. But there is no antecedent principles external to the argument of the position to which anyone has to refer to derive their principles. Freedom as independence is represented in how the parties give priority to guaranteeing the conditions for realizing their highest-order interests. Given that parties can stand above their conceptions of the good and judge them they are independent from them.

The Kantian conception of the veil of ignorance is also stated by Rawls to involve this veil being "thick". It is not only, as with Hume, that we wish to prevent parties from reasoning according to threat advantage. We further wish to prevent specific given notions of the good from being decisive in determining the basis for general agreement. This thicker veil is thus intended to ensure the fullest recognition of the equal status of persons by preventing even the higher-order (but not highest-order) interests of some from weighing more than others. Equality is represented within the original position by taking rights and powers within the procedure of it to be distributed to all. The only relevant feature here is that the capacity for moral personality is fulfilled and accidents of fortune are given no place within the construction. 

Rawls unhappily concludes the second lecture with two misleading contrasts between his approach as articulated here and Kant's own views. The first contrast is between the primacy of the social in the view and the "individual" focus of the Categorical Imperative. This contrast is misleading since Rawls argues that the principles of social justice are understood by Kant to follow from personal considerations of a sort that weigh in moral decisions strictly so called. In fact the supreme principle of right is not derived from such personal considerations even though it is clearly related to the Categorical Imperative itself. The basis of such derivation is a lengthy and difficult question but suffice it to say that the rationale for treating one in relation to the other concerns the overall conditions for the possible sustaining of just relations and is not grounded on personal matters. Rawls' suggestion to the contrary here is based on a very loose reading of the Doctrine of Right, a work he nowhere gives any sustained interpretation of, including, surprisingly, in his lectures on political philosophy (which don't include lectures on Kant).

The second contrast concerns the relationship between Rawls' notion of the "full" publicity requirement and Kant's idea of the "fact" of reason. Here Rawls is emphasizing that his view of autonomy is based on the way that publicity conditions enable it to be given form. By contrast he takes the "fact" of reason to just imply a mysterious basis to autonomy. In fact Kant's account of publicity (as stated in Perpetual Peace) has no essential relationship to the idea of autonomy in his moral philosophy and nor does Kant model political philosophy by it though he does instead discuss a relationship between freedom and independence that has correlates with Rawls' view of full autonomy. Rawls' comparison here mixes up levels of articulation of his doctrine by reference to Kant's and is singularly unhelpful in enabling a relationship between them to be stated.

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