Defending Rawls on the self : a response to the communitarian critique.
This thesis aims at defending John Rawls from the communitarian critique by Michael Sandel and Alasdair Maclntyre. The main focus of the thesis is to investigate how cogent their criticism of Rawls's conception of the person is. In chapter one I summarise Rawls's theory of justice. I look at the two principles of justice and what they entail. These principles determine the rights of the citizens as well as how material goods in society should be distributed. He formulates what he calls 'justice as fairness'. Deeply embedded in establishing the notion of justice as fairness are two inseparable ideas. These are the idea of the original position and the idea of the veil of ignorance. The original position presents a thought experiment in which individuals are brought together to come up with an ideal society that they would want to live in. The ideas they have to discuss ultimately include individual rights and freedoms as well as how material goods are to be shared in that society. The individuals, however, are deprived of certain crucial information about how they would appear in the resulting society. This is what Rawls calls the veil of ignorance. The individuals do not know who or what they are going to be in their society. In other words, they do not know if they are going to be male or female, rich or poor, rulers or the oppressed or what their personality traits/character type or talents and disabilities will be. In chapter two I will look at the communitarian objection to Rawls's project. As a crucial part of his characterisation of the veil of ignorance and the original position he claims that these individuals do not know of their own conception of the good. This means that they are not aware of what they will choose as worthwhile and what they will consider to be a wasted life. Thus, these individuals, in considering principles that must govern them, that is principles of justice, will not discriminate between those who pursue a life of enlightenment and those who pursue a life of drugs and heavy parties. This has caused problems with communitarians who insist that one cannot be indifferent to what she considers to be worthwhile. They argue that an individual will defend what she considers to be worthwhile in the face of what she considers to be base, she will discriminate what is worthwhile from what is not worthwhile. Any interpretation that does not conform to this understanding is a distorted understanding of the nature of individuals. The work of communitarians is very broad. My main concentration is going to be on the work of Michael J. Sandel and Alasdair Mclntyre in so far as they argue that Rawls's project rests on a fundamentally mistaken view of the self. I have chosen Sandel and Mclntyre because their work is similar though expressed differently. They both argue that Rawls views the individual as preceding the existence of her society. They both claim that Rawls is committed to a certain metaphysical view of the self that leaves out the essence of community and values in the make up of individuals. In chapter three I argue that the objections by both Maclntyre and Sandel fail to apply to Rawls's project. I argue that their objections have strayed from metaphysics of the person. Sandel and Maclntyre claim that Rawls is committed to a certain metaphysical view of the self. Sandel calls it an "antecedently individuated self and Maclntyre calls it an "unencumbered emotivist self. Using the example of Derek Parfit and Bernard Williams I conclude that Sandel and Maclntyre are not discussing metaphysics of the person but have brought other issues that are at odds with our traditional understanding of the metaphysics of the self. In chapter four I conclude by considering the differences between my response to the communitarian critique and Rawls's response. Rawls explicitly denies that his theory is committed to any view of the person. He argues that justice as fairness is intended as a political conception of justice. He argues that justice as fairness is a moral conception that is meant for a specific subject. The subject he has in mind refers to the economic social and political institutions that make up society. Rawls chooses to explain what his theory entails and its limitations regarding metaphysics. I show how my response differs from Rawls's and argue that my response has got certain attractions over Rawls's own response. I end by looking at possible ways of furthering the debate.