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Rawls’ Political Constructivism 1

Constructing Justice in the Deeply Pluralistic Liberal State

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The Hypothetical Original Position

John Rawlsoriginal position is a hypothetical procedural mechanism for free and equal citizens to express and debate their views of justice in accordance with practical public reason and rationality.

As such, it is the focal point of Rawls’ political constructivism regarding the objectivity and validity of political decisions regarding justice.

Parties in the original position are deemed to have all the public knowledge and understanding of themselves as citizens who are free and equal, and what such citizens would expect of a just liberal society.

The parties justify their decisions based purely on this public knowledge; but Rawls does not claim that their decisions are universally true or endowed with a transcendent objectivity.

Procedural Fairness

The decisions are based on practical thought in the context of a procedurally fair scenario.

The objectivity of the original position is based on an impartiality that arises when reasonable and rational parties exercise practical public thought without knowing what their beliefs or position in society will be.

In doing so, the parties are facilitated with the means of seeing beyond the limited perspective of any one conception of the good.

A Glimpse of Plurality

The hypothetical parties to the original position, and we who observe and participate in their deliberations as if we were parties to the original position, are given a glimpse of multiple conceptions of the good and positions in society; conceptions that may conflict and positions that may come attached with differing interests.

And we, all who are asked to imagine this hypothetical debate, are asked to articulate the principles of justice that would arise if we were forced to take into consideration all reasonable conceptions of the good and all possible positions in society.

The substantive justice of the principles is the result of a fair procedure. The correctness of the principles of justice decided upon is not based on a transcendent moral order or truth.

They are correct only insofar as they are the result of impartial practical reason exercised under fair and impartial conditions.

The principles are constructed as the practical result of a process by parties who are cognizant of the deeply pluralistic nature of the liberal political state.

Contingent Results Over Moral Truth

The original position is thus a “procedure of construction,” and the decisions that result are not morally true, but instead, politically practical and practically justified.

The principles are contingent on the range of social and temporal conditions that the parties may have to take into consideration in an infinite number of scenarios.

Reflective Equilibrium

Rawls asserts that “reflective equilibrium” works through the original position: a reiterative process, a hypothetical dialectic spanning all possible perspectives one might conceive of in the context of arriving at a conception of justice.

In reflective equilibrium, all of one’s beliefs on all levels of generality cohere into a unified vision: one’s specific political views cohere with one’s general political convictions, which in turn cohere with one’s overall abstract political vision.

Temporal Process

While reflective equilibrium is never a process of perfection, it is aimed at optimizing one’s overall view.

Reflective equilibrium is a process of coherence and consistency, but not one based on foundational beliefs. There are no transcendental grounds that are the starting point for obtaining reflective equilibrium.

It is a reiterative process with a temporal quality. Justification is based on an idea of coherence as a testing ground for an overall political vision.

One reflects over time and differing circumstances on the consistency and coherence of specific political views, general political convictions and the best fit for the overall vision.

No single belief is privileged or the foundation of others.

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Excerpt from my forthcoming book, Becoming: A Life of Pure Difference (Gilles Deleuze and the Philosophy of the New) Copyright © 2021 by Tomas Byrne. Learn more here.



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Tomas Byrne

Tomas Byrne

Jagged Tracks Music, Process Philosophy, Progressive Ethics, Transformative Political Theory, Informed Thrillers, XLawyer