chapter  1
20 Pages

Rawls: The construction of a democratic thought: Rima Hawi


Introduction “We may note first that there is, indeed, a way of thinking of society which makes it easy to suppose that the most rational conception of justice is utilitarian” (Rawls 1971b: §5, 20-1). Utilitarian theory seems to have strong appeal among individuals, Rawls tells us in A Theory of Justice, because it clearly and simply embodies rationality. This likely explains why Rawls was initially influenced by this doctrine, then dominant, which puts forward the first principle of the greatest happiness summed over all individuals. In Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy (2000), Rawls labels this utilitarian doctrine the “liberalism of happiness” because of its first principle: it is liberalism because utilitarianism does not rule out freedom but rather conditions it to the principle of greatest happiness. Going against this vision, Rawls put forward the theory of justice as fairness, which he classified in the traditional field of “liberalism of freedom,” liberalism which gives priority to certain basic liberties over any other principle. Our work is aimed at showing the path of Rawls: from his first utilitarian influences to the formulation of an alternative theory written in the tradition of liberalism of freedom. This will lead us to show how the principles of this tradition allowed him to reconcile some necessary concepts for the understanding of the requirements of justice. In order to do this, the first part of our work will deal with what influenced Rawls in the writings of utilitarian authors according to Rawls’ definition. We will focus our analysis on two authors: first, David Hume, whose influence is mostly felt at the starting point of Rawls’ theory, the very idea of justice; and second, Sidgwick, who developed a method of ethics that inspired Rawls in establishing his initial position, and became a reference for Rawls regarding the vision of utilitarianism he wanted to confront. Throughout Rawls’ works, his opposition to utilitarianism becomes clearly visible, to the point of constituting an alternative theory. In order to build it, Rawls first called on the ideas of social contract theories. By using the concept of a state of nature, these theories introduce the notion of fairness and, more importantly, insist on the fact that the principles (of justice) must be subject to

an agreement between individuals who are placed in a situation of equality, a stance that became the original position in justice as fairness. We will favor Rousseau’s approach, which is best suited to represent the requirements of fairness and cooperation between individuals. In order to be sure that the agreement between the parties in the original position was possible regarding the existence of conflicts of interest, Rawls was inspired by some ideas taken from the “liberalism of freedom.” In the third part, we will attempt to demonstrate that these authors – John Stuart Mill, Kant and Hegel – allowed him to reconcile the Rational and the Reasonable (in the original position under a veil of ignorance): to bring people to see further than their private interests, to search for the fair terms of social cooperation, and thus to make possible the agreement on principles of justice based upon the conflicts of interest between individuals. By retracing the genesis of John Rawls’ thought process, we will demonstrate his path toward the liberalism of freedom, a tradition that is better equipped to show the coherence between his theory of social justice presented in A Theory of Justice and the more recent developments of his thought dedicated to political practice: two fundamental questions that a democratic society faces.