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Introduction and overview: Ragip Ege and Herrade Igersheim


This book originates from the opposition between liberalism of freedom and liberalism of happiness, a conceptual opposition described by Rawls in his Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy (2000). According to the philosopher, the principles of liberalism of freedom are “principles of political and civic freedoms, and these principles have priority over other principles that may also be invoked” (Rawls 2000: 330). Rawls stresses that Hegel, Kant, J.S. Mill and he could be regarded as examples of proponents of this kind of liberalism. It contrasts with the liberalism of the classic utilitarians (Bentham, James Mill and Sidgwick) that Rawls calls “liberalism of happiness”. Furthermore, Rawls observes that this opposition corresponds to two political and philosophical traditions which are observed in European history. Within the framework of a research program,1 the contributors to the present volume were invited to carry out a theoretical interrogation of the concrete content of these traditions. This conceptual interrogation has been coupled with more applied studies looking for a possible exploitation of the Rawlsian opposition in order better to interpret modifications of individual preferences. The present volume is the outcome of this research process. The methodological approach which is adopted in our investigation of the foundations of, and the specific concepts related to, these two forms of liberalism deserves further explanation. We didn’t opt for a general thematic examination of the conceptual content of these forms through the evolution of the socio-economic and political ideas and doctrines in European history. We chose to specify and develop the precise position of an author or group of authors regarding the Rawlsian opposition. Let us specify that the contributors are specialists of the authors or group of authors examined in the different chapters. In this perspective, the largest part of our book stems from the text analysis methodology. Most of the authors we analyzed are referred to and examined by Rawls himself. One could express as follows the questions that we attempted to answer through the analysis of their works: To what extent does an attentive reading of the texts confirm or not the relevance of the Rawlsian opposition? To what extent does this conceptual distinction allow us to reach a deep comprehension of the analytical work of the selected authors without reducing the complexity of

their thought? Some other authors who are not explicitly referred to by Rawls are also approached. In this case, the concern is to see if the opposition between liberalism of happiness and liberalism of freedom is likely to shed light on the work under consideration. To what extent can resorting to the mentioned opposition reveal some levels of significance not immediately visible in the texts? In a nutshell, the objective of our book is to mobilize this conceptual opposition as an analytical tool to reach a better comprehension of the liberal adventure in Europe. The opposition liberalism of freedom vs. liberalism of happiness could be formulated in a more concise way by the opposition “happiness vs. freedom”. Thus, the questions at stake are as follows: On the basis of which arguments could happiness and freedom be considered as opposed or mutually exclusive? What is the foundation of such an opposition? As the reader will observe in this volume, answers to these questions arise mostly in the form of more analytical, and therefore finer, new oppositions. The most rigorous of them, as Rawls underlines continuously throughout his work, is the opposition “the good vs. the just”. Liberalism of happiness considers the good as the first concern of a society, the latter deriving the right from its conception of the good. As for liberalism of freedom, its fundamental and absolute principle (i.e., political and civic freedoms) is set out as the priority of the just over the good. Obviously the just is assimilated here to the concept of freedom and the good to that of happiness. From the point of view of liberalism of freedom, political and civic freedoms represent absolute universal rights and, as such, they cannot be considered in any way as a reality stemming from the “good”. Both in economic and in moral terminologies, the concept of good is associated with the idea of particularity, which itself is connected with the idea of arbitrary and subjectivity and hence with individual preferences. Another conceptual opposition, which will appear in the following pages, expresses more precisely the non-reducible character of the just to an arbitrary object of desire. It is the couple “deontology vs. teleology”. Regarding liberalism of freedom, what prevents the just from being reduced to an ordinary object of desire is its character of “duty”. The moral subject receives his aptitude to justice as an obligation, a duty. In this sense, a just action must not be seen as the product of a subjective choice but as a deontological action, i.e., as the execution of a duty which imposes its law on the moral subject. On the other hand, for liberalism of happiness, a teleological phenomenon is necessarily oriented by a desire, an inclination, a preference, a conception of the good, in brief, by a subjective and arbitrary end. A utilitarian calculation in the form of the pursuit of happiness, well-being, an ideal or some object of utility governs explicitly or implicitly the teleological action. Thus, the Kantian couple of “autonomy vs. heteronomy” overlaps this last opposition, too. We know that in the Kantian terminology the term “autonomy” corresponds to the action undertaken according to the requests of the “good will”: to put it differently, it obeys the exigencies of the “categorical imperative”. On the other hand, an individual acts heteronomously when his action obeys the commandments of the “hypothetical

imperatives”. Kant states admirably: “the ‘hypothetical imperatives’ say: I ought to do something because I will something. On the contrary, the moral and therefore categorical imperative says: I ought to act in such a way even though I have not willed anything else” (Kant 1785: 47). Here we find a last but major opposition of which Kant takes greatly advantage in his moral philosophy and which also runs through Rawls’ entire work: “reasonable vs. rational”. When the action obeys the orders of the categorical imperatives, it is said to be reasonable; and an action governed by the exigencies of hypothetical imperatives stems from the rational order. Therefore, the concept of reasonable is connected to the concepts we classed on the side of “freedom”, namely “just”, “deontology”, “autonomy”, whereas the concept of rational corresponds to those linked to “happiness”, “teleology” and “heteronomy”. Thus, according to the aforementioned principle of liberalism of freedom, “the just has priority over the good” can be considered synonymous with the phrase “the reasonable has priority over the rational”. As the reader will notice throughout the book, our understanding of the concept of reasonable is connected with the problem of otherness. Rawls says:

Knowing that people are reasonable where others are concerned, we know that they are willing to govern their conduct by a principle from which they and others can reason in common: and reasonable people take into account the consequences of their actions on others’ well-being.