What is this blog about?

What is this blog about?

I am a political philosopher. My 'political philosophy' is a form of 'liberal egalitarianism.' So in this blog I reflect on various issues in political philosophy and politics (especially Canadian and American politics) from a liberal egalitarian perspective.

If you are curious about what I mean by 'liberal egalitarianism,' my views are strongly influenced by the conception of justice advanced by John Rawls. (So I sometimes refer to myself as a 'Rawlsian,' even though I disagree with Rawls on some matters.)

Astonishingly, I am paid to write and teach moral and political philosophy. I somehow manage to do this despite my akratic nature. Here is my faculty profile.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Two reviews of recent volumes on Rawls’s political philosophy

Last month, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews published reviews of two recent volumes on the political philosophy of John Rawls.

The first review, written by Jeremy Williams of the University of Birmingham, is on the volume Rawls and Religion (Columbia University Press, 2015), edited by Tom Bailey and Valentina Gentile.  The review is quite positive overall: “It [Rawls and Religion] has…plenty to offer to aficionados of, and newcomers to, the debate over Rawls and religion alike.”  However, Williams comments that the volume “tilts a bit too far in” the direction of accommodating “Rawls’ pro-faith critics,” that is, critics who hold that Rawlsian political liberalism “is unfairly demanding because it requires religious citizens to alienate themselves from their deepest convictions.”  My own view is that Rawls goes quite far enough in his final writings in accommodating the concerns of deeply religious citizens.  Such citizens enjoy full freedom of religion (and more generally, liberty of conscience, freedom of association, and freedom of speech).  Rawlsian public reason simply requires that any question concerning a constitutional essential or matter of basic justice be decided via shareable public reasons.  This has never struck me as an especially heavy burden for citizens to bear.  So I agree with the following observation from Williams: “It would have been welcome had the volume offered a greater counterbalancing sense of what can be said in favour of a stricter, exclusivist public reason account and against Rawls’ move to the wide view.”  In fact, I know of an article that would have served this purpose quite well!  It’s by my friends Christie Hartley and Lori Watson: “Feminism, Religion, and Shared Reasons: A Defense of Exclusive Public Reason” (Law and Philosophy (2009) 28).

The second review, written by Catherine Audard of the LSE, is on the volume A Companion to Rawls (Wiley Blackwell, 2014), edited by Jon Mandle and David Reidy.  I’ve read about one third of the chapters myself since receiving the book in January 2014, and based on that sample, I found the review to provide a fair overview of the volume’s quality.  This definitely is a book worth getting, at least for scholars working in contemporary political philosophy, though it is not quite as excellent, I think, as the Cambridge Companion to Rawls (edited by Samuel Freeman) published a dozen years ago.  In particular, I agree with Audard’s comment: “One must…note that the level of scholarship is sometimes uneven, with some very philosophical essays, others by contrast remaining too descriptive.”  I think that this is right, and wish that the more descriptive pieces had been replaced with more critical ones.  After all, the main purpose of the Cambridge Rawls Lexicon – also edited by Mandle and Reidy – is precisely to provide explanatory essays on the various topics, arguments, and concepts of Rawls’s political philosophy.  (I should mention that I contributed the entry on ‘Public Reason’ to the Lexicon, which benefited enormously from Jon Mandle’s editing.)  Why have some of the essays within the Companion do, more or less, what the entries within the Lexicon do?  That quibble aside, though, I think that this is a valuable volume overall, and already have used some of the essays in my teaching and research.

[John Rawls]

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