Last Updated 27 Jan 2021

Critical Response Paper

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The development of political thought was always close-knit with the author’s epoch and regime of governance he lived under; however, in spite of the ethical and technological limitations, associated with the temporal factor, the majority of political scientists sought to build a universalized framework of justice and legitimate state power.

John Rawls is distinguished for his positivist, or “realistic utopian” approach to justice and principles of peaceful coexistence among individuals as well as peace between government and population. However, the proportion of utopianism is much higher in his writings, as compared to the realism ratio, given that he fails to address the challenges, related to diversity and class inequality which are dominating the modern North American society.

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First of all, it is important to pay attention to Rawls’s dynamic and positivistic model of justice. According to the article, instead of seeking the ideal of justice beyond the existing order of affairs, the scholar tries to enable reasonable and gradual improvements of the internal structure and situation: “We can see this idea through the rather well-worn metaphor of the difference between the efforts needed to fix a boat that is at sea one plank at a time rather than trying to rebuild it from scratch. Generally speaking, it makes more sense to engage the first sort of repair job than a complete rebuild” (Mini-lecture, p.4).

Interestingly, the author focuses predominantly on the strong points of the current ideas of justice as articulated both in legal terms and through societal behaviours.

However, this task might appear extremely challenging given the focus of diversity in most European and North American policies. Diversity is a delicate issue, since there is a number of conflicts among beliefs, interests and practices, underlying each cultural or social group. Obtaining true impartiality also turns into a difficult task, as the society, which lacks uniformity in certain vital political issues, is likely to encourage its groups to perceive and assess the objective reality from the intragroup value system; as a result, such judgments can seem neither objective nor neutral.

According to the article, “He does not propose a vision of justice that would stretch our character too and tries to build a theory that is responsive to our current conditions” (Mini-lecture, p.5).

However, taking into consideration the above provided chain of reasoning, one can assume that the existing disproportion and divergence of political values will inevitably result in the necessity of “stretching” the philosophies or ideologies of certain minority groups, either religious or cultural. However, for the purpose of maintaining/ establishing social cohesion, this step can be justified, since the vast majority is likely to benefit from it.

This excessive pluralism is partially addressed in the reading: “Bearing this point in mind, he tries to find a way to build an impartial model for deliberating about principles of justice that everyone can reasonably be expected to endorse despite holding different religious and moral views” (Mini-lecture, p.5).

The statement is quite abstractive, whereas the particular scenarios of its realization point to the existence of disparities in core values of each group. For instance, in the United States, there are several large Muslim communities, whose polity greatly resembles the lifestyles of Middle Asian societies. The U.S.-based communities might engage with political activity and unite into a faction, requiring, for instance, the cancellation of women’s right to take certain jobs, and referring to the fact that the existing state-of-art offends their vision of gender morality.

Surprisingly, this faction might be supported by other political groups, which also share this view on gender equality – as a result, the society might be torn by the debate over the true justice. As one can notice, the representation of the core values of liberty might be uneven in our society, so both federal and state legislations necessarily challenge the beliefs of a certain minority.

 Furthermore, Rawls’s concept of justice and stability is quite unrealistic, since it provides an abstractive picture, barely imaginable in the current world. According to the political philosophy article, “His core insight is that a stable and enduring society is one that is also just, that is, where citizens are considered to be free and equal. More importantly, citizens have to be able to see themselves and each other as free and equal” (Mini-lecture, p.6).

However, inequality is inescapable, it is often referred to as an engine of social and political development, which motivates individuals to participate in political processes. The true equality, as articulated in the paper, consists in people’s outlooks and convictions, yet the formation of “equality beliefs” is normally realized only partly, since there still exist economic, social, regional, gender and age boundaries which make people feel underprivileged or superior.

In this sense, Rawls refers to Kant and observes that the greatest political ideas were realized from the personal to the public, i.e. if an individual considers certain pattern ‘fair’, this pattern is likely to appear to be ‘fair’ in the whole society.

However, this logic of reasoning fails to take into consideration the fact that the idea of equality was first born in autocratic societies, bearing much higher uniformity within its aristocratic and power circles, as compared to the modern Western world. Given that Rawls himself states that the relevance of political ideas depends on temporal and spatial (regional) factors, so the ideas of liberty and equality, which existed in the ancient world and Enlightenment society, are not fully suitable in the modern North American society.

Thus, given that the author implies a positivist approach o the development of political values and proposes that they be formulated “from within”, Rawls should have also looked closely at specific cases and considered the workability of his perspective in real macrogroup situations.

Reference list

Mini-Lecture. A Brief Introduction to Rawls’s Project, pp.1-10.

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