Libertarian Potential in Rawls, By Murali (15 Nov 2011)

Graduate Seminar Series: 15 Nov 2011, 2-4pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Murali, Current M. A. student, Department of Philosophy, NUS; Moderator: TBA

In this paper, I examine the criticism of Rawls’s theory made by Loren Lomasky in his article Libertarianism at twin Harvard. Lomasky argues that from the original position, the parties would have chosen libertarian principles of justice rather than the canonical set. Lomasky argues that the liberty principle which canonically excludes the economic liberties would be expanded to include them as economic activity is paradigmatically private. He also argues that the difference principle would not be chosen because the restrictions placed on the better off would produce intolerably high strains of commitment and that a modified utilitarian principle which guarantees a decent minimum would be chosen instead. He further argues that the difference principle would be rejected in favour of strong property rights and the impartial enforcement of contracts given recent advances in the social sciences which demonstrate their salutary effect on the well-being of the worst off. I will be broadly focusing on two arguments against Lomasky.

I argue that there are salient differences between the economic liberties and the basic liberties which are pertinent to the argument for the liberty principle and its priority over the second principle of justice. This difference gives us reason to only include something like Rawls’s canonical set of basic liberties within the list of basic liberties. Furthermore, I argue that the economic liberties pre-suppose an institutional framework that is premature to assume from within the original position.

With regards to the difference principle, I argue that while none of Rawls’s actual defences of the difference principle vis a vis the strains of commitment work, Rawls has the resources to defend the difference principle as the one best able to satisfy the concerns posed by strains of commitment on the stability of society.

murali anna 2About the speaker: Murali is a current M. A. student in the Department of Philosophy. He is working on a masters thesis that has to do with Rawls and justification of the original position.

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