Does He Mean What He Says? (Mis)Understanding Rawls’ Practical Turn

  • Patrick Neal


This chapter continues the analysis of Rawls’ practical turn as expressed in his post-A Theory of Justice writings. Here, however, the focus shifts to Rawls’ distinctive, and often perplexing, views in regard to the role of political philosophy and the political philosopher within a democratic society.


Political Philosophy Political Theory Political Liberalism Practical Task Political Conception 
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  1. 1.
    John Rawls, “Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 14, no. 3 (Summer, 1985), p. 226. Other works by Rawls drawn upon in this chapter are, John Rawls, “The Idea of an Overlapping Consensus,” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 1–25; “The Priority of Right and Ideas of the Good,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 17, no. 4 (Fall, 1988), pp. 251–77; “The Domain of the Political and Overlapping Consensus,” New York University Law Review, vol. 64, no. 2 (May, 1989), pp. 233–55. Also, John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971).Google Scholar
  2. 12.
    In relation to Rawls’ work, see especially Susan Okin, Justice, Gender and the Family (New York: Basic Books, 1989), especially pp. 89–109; and the insightful commentary on Okin by Will Kymlicka, “Rethinking the Family,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 20, no. 1 (Winter, 1991), pp. 77–97.Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    Even Thomas Pogge, a very sympathetic (and enlightening) reader of Rawls, expresses a touch of exasperation regarding Rawls emphasizing “…the importance of his work for enhancing the legitimacy of our social institutions,” in Realizing Rawls (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989), p. 212.Google Scholar
  4. 17.
    See, for example, Richard Rorty, “Feminism and Pragmatism,” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, vol. 13, ed. Grethe B. Peterson (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992), pp. 1–36.Google Scholar
  5. 18.
    Charles Larmore, “Political Liberalism,” Political Theory, vol. 18, no. 3 (August, 1990), p. 354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 19.
  7. 27.
    Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice (New York: Basic Books, 1983), p. xiv.Google Scholar
  8. 28.
    See especially Richard Rorty, “The Contingency of a Liberal Community,” in Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 44–72, and “The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy,” in Philosophical Papers vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 279–302; therein (p. 284) Rawls is said to be “thoroughly historicist and anti-universalist;” Rorty is describing himself, not Rawls, here.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 29.
    Joseph Raz, “Facing Diversity: The Case of Epistemic Abstinence,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 19, no. 1 (Winter, 1990), p. 9.Google Scholar
  10. 30.
    Ibid., p. 14.Google Scholar
  11. 31.
    Ibid., p. 15.Google Scholar
  12. 32.
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  14. 34.
  15. 35.
    An elegant and persuasive attempt to do this is Michael Walzer, “Philosophy and Democracy,” Political Theory, vol. 9, no. 1 (August, 1981), pp. 379–97.Google Scholar
  16. 48.
    My ideas here and in the following section owe a great deal to Bonnie Honig, Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), ch. 5.Google Scholar
  17. 50.
    A theme essayed with much insight in Richard Flathman, Willful Liberalism: Voluntarism and Individuality in Political Theory and Practice (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992), especially pp. 166–224.Google Scholar
  18. 55.
    See the excellent discussion in Ron Replogle, Recovering the Social Contract (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1989), pp. 230–7.Google Scholar
  19. 57.
    Kurt Baier, “Justice and the Aims of Political Philosophy,” Ethics, vol. 99, no. 4 (July, 1989), pp. 771–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Patrick Neal 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick Neal
    • 1
  1. 1.University of VermontBurlingtonUSA

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