Friday, January 20, 2006

I'm Trying to Understand Rawls

Dr. Dan Slater, from the debate of a few days ago, insisted on not basing his 'practical' policy suggestions on any philosophical principle, and yet with some insistence from the opposition side (myself included), Slater conceded that he had been influenced to some significant degree by John Rawls' fairness theory of justice and Utilitarian-Majoritarian moral principles. Now, I have had only a cursory knowledge of Rawls, mostly through secondary sources that have cited him or have critiqued his works, such as Rawls' colleague at Harvard, Robert Nozick and some liberatarian articles from the Mises Institute. I intended to read more of and about Rawls and the works of other authors in the relation to his ideas. I believe it is necessary to examine as much as is possible, differing viewpoints before I can settle with and accept honestly any particular intellectual framework. But from what I have been reading, it is amazing that the Rawlsian inconsistencies have not been cited as an effective reason to dismiss atleast a part, if not all, of his theories. And quite the contrary, he is regarded as one of the most influential political philosophers of the 20th century. Rawls argued against bringing metaphysics and epistemological studies into Political Philosophy because, based on his Kantian influence, he accepted that "reasonable pluralism" on what constitutes human nature and the pursuit of a good life is an "evil" that is best left avoided. Attempting to study the underlying motivations of human nature and pursuit is, on principle, defeatist because those aspects are, in typical Kantian fashion, unknowable. Thus, Rawls basis his theories of justice and moral policy not on any metaphysical or epistemic understanding of the human beings that constitute society, but on the majoritarian opinions of whatever is accepted as "reasonable" by the current society. This, ofcourse, then logically leads him to endorse different and even opposite policy behaviors based upon seemingly insubstantial factors like geographic boundaries. This means Rawlsian political theories would stand in starck opposition to mine in the specific issue of Immigration and human mobility. It seems contrary to common intuition that you can arbitrarily claim certain acts or modes of behavior as "good" without giving any reason why - or, like Rawls does, insisting that there need not be any reason why. Well, to be fair, Rawls does place the reason for accepting any given policy in the hands of the society in question. It is the only method consistent with democracy, he argues. On the surface, that argument seems fair enough - unless you unfortunately happen to fall in the minority category, in which case you will most likely be unhappy about the rules and policies you are expected to obey. I guess one could justify it as the collateral for having democracy. Aristotle, so many centuries ago, recognized this fact and called democracy an evil that must be tolerated. So, what is Objectivism and libertarianism advocating if they vehemently oppose Rawlsian theories?Are they railing against democracy? Do Objectivists inadvertently advocate a form of oligarchy veiled behind euphemisms like individual self-determinism? It seems to me that "democracy" has been so adulterated as a concept, that people no longer understand democracy as separate from majoritarianism. I wish to ponder why democracy cannot be compatable individual autonomy. Why does democratic policies almost always mean policies that are constructed by the majority group of people according to their consistencies. At this point, I understand Rand's position that government and legislative bodies should stay out of any area that does not directly relate to security, protection, and defense. Under an individualistic laissez-faire system, there would not arise a situation where the majority would be creating any social or economic policies. That would not be the role of the government or of the legislative bodies. It seems to me that democracy is popularly assumed to mean that the government is in charge of creating and enforcing policies that determine how individuals will act in a society by authority of the majority group that entrusted the government with such power. But democracy can clearly be separated from such an assumption. A democratic system could also mean that the citizens of a country elect their representatives and entrust them ONLY with the powers to enact security and defense-related policies - policies that would ensure the protection of fundamental, individual rights that is common to all human beings. It would also create judidicial bodies to arbitrate on matters that solely concern any alleged violation of such fundamental rights. Under such a democratic system then, there is no need for "reasonable pluralism" because there is no question of legitimizing or compromising anyone's personal understanding of what the "good" life is for themselves. The good life would be whatever you wish to define it as within the boundaries of your rights without the violation of someone else's right. There is no need to enforce the "majority" consesus of the "good" life on any member of the minority. Each individual would be and should be free to be autonomous and self-directed. I admit that political philosophy is an area that I have not given much attention to, and so my thoughts might be racked with problems and inconsistencies. I am open to any criticisms or insights to the matter.


Blogger JohnJEnright said...

Whenever I hear "the veil of ignorance" my teeth grind.

1/20/2006 08:05:00 PM  
Blogger Ergo Sum said...

Yea.. when I read about the veil of ignorance, I thought, This is ridiculous... not only is this a wanton flight of fancy, but it's the most mystical and tyrannical foundation for ethical or political decisions!

1/22/2006 04:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Tony said...

You are an intelligent and tenacious thinker. Great blog!

1/22/2006 05:39:00 PM  
Blogger Aethlos said...

in your "interests" section you mention 'making short films/videos'. i assumed it was a hobby... or, if you were in video prod maybe you went to film school?

1/22/2006 06:42:00 PM  
Blogger Ergo Sum said...

Yea, I did pursue Broadcast journalism for some time. Along the way, I managed to make a few short videos... music videos, promos, and the like.
But yeah.. how would I post them? It'll be such a hastle. I don't even know how to post some of my college papers that I wish I could.
Oh well...

1/23/2006 08:48:00 AM  
Blogger Ergo Sum said...


And yes, I love making videos... I just wish I had the equipment now -- a miniDV camera and some good editing software... I used to work on Premiere and Avid.

1/23/2006 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger Rubicund Y. Logorrhea said...

I assume you're talking about Lou Rawls... never knew he wrote books too.

1/24/2006 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Ergo Sum said...

No, Rubicunt. John Rawls. Harvard prof. Now dead. He is considered one of the foremost political philosophers of the 20th century.

Rawlsian "Veil of Ignorance". ugh.

1/24/2006 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Rubicund Y. Logorrhea said...

Yay, ig'nunce!

We loves the ig'nunce! 'Tis bliss, ain't it?

1/25/2006 11:10:00 AM  

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