Res Publica

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 409–429 | Cite as

Pluralist Partially Comprehensive Doctrines, Moral Motivation, and the Problem of Stability

  • Ross A. Mittiga


Recent scholarship has drawn attention to John Rawls’s concern with stability—a concern that, as Rawls himself notes, motivated Part III of A Theory of Justice and some of the more important changes of his political turn. For Rawls, the possibility of achieving ‘stability for the right reasons’ depends on citizens possessing sufficient moral motivation. I argue, however, that the moral psychology Rawls develops to show how such motivation would be cultivated and sustained does not cohere with his specific descriptions of ‘pluralist (partially comprehensive)’ doctrines. Considering Rawls’s claims that ‘most’ citizens—both in contemporary liberal democracies and in the well-ordered society—possess such doctrines, this incompatibility threatens to undermine his stability arguments. Despite the enormous importance of pluralist doctrines and the potential difficulties they pose for Rawls’s project, remarkably little attention has been paid to them. By critically examining these difficulties, the article begins to address this oversight.


Rawls Stability Moral motivation Comprehensive doctrines Value pluralism Stability for the right reasons Overlapping consensus Political liberalism Moral psychology 



An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2014 Western Political Science Association Annual Meeting. I thank my respondent, Simon Cotton, and my co-panelist, Dan Brudney, for their feedback on that occasion. I also thank Colin Bird, Tal Brewer, Harrison Frye, Stephen White, and the journal’s two anonymous reviewers for their many helpful comments on various earlier drafts. My deepest gratitude goes to George Klosko and Jordanna Faye Brown for their generous feedback and unflagging encouragement throughout the article’s development.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PoliticsUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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