Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dr Justin Weinberg speaks on John Rawls

John Rawls's work has had unparalleled influence on philosophy and political theory. His 1971 book "A Theory of Justice" was a classic in its day, and he continued to refine and develop a defense of liberalism for decades after. We can assume that Rawls will continue to set the agenda for discussion of justice for decades to come.

So what was the big idea?
And what is philosophical discussion of Rawls like today?

Lots of discussion of Rawls happens in our classrooms. American Philosophy students have puzzled over the particular approach taken by Rawls this semester. It is described as "ideal theory". Such an approach assumes reasonable agents and favorable social conditions in order to generate a standard of justice that can then be used to assess real-world political situations. Ideal theory been criticized for its implicit content in the past, by antiliberals and liberals alike. A newer concern is the ability of any idealized approach to be applied in the way it was designed to be.

Can we even make use of an idealized account of politics?
Is the entire approach mistaken?

Come see what you think by attending Dr. Justin Weinberg's (of USC Philosophy) talk "A Little Reality is a Dangerous Thing" this Friday from 2-3 in Education 111.

"A Little Reality is a Dangerous Thing"

"How realistic should normative political philosophy be?  Ideal theory,
an approach to political philosophy that makes use of some idealizing
assumptions in the place of empirical information, has recently been
subject to the "bad effects" criticism.  The bad effects criticism holds
that ideal theories, if advocated for or implemented in our non-ideal
circumstances, would have suboptimal, and possibly disastrous, effects.
Some theorists have suggested that the bad effects criticism could be
avoided by turning to non-ideal theory, which replaces some idealizing assumptions
with an accurate empirical account of the kinds of people we are, the
kind of world we live in, and the kinds of possibilities open to us."

"In this paper, I argue that this reason for turning to non-ideal theory is
mistaken, since non-ideal theory is also subject to the bad effects
criticism.  Mainly this is because it risks preserving features of our
lives and world whose badness we tend to carelessly overlook and whose
existence we unwarrantedly assume as static and permanent---a claim I
support by appealing to empirical research in social psychology and
behavioral economics, as well as history.  In short, incorporating a
little reality into political philosophy may bring us bad effects, and
this is something we learn by bringing even more reality into political
philosophy." - Dr Weinberg.

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