Rawls and Habermas: Reason, Pluralism, and the Claims of Political Philosophy

Rawls and Habermas: Reason, Pluralism, and the Claims of Political Philosophy

Rawls and Habermas: Reason, Pluralism, and the Claims of Political Philosophy

Rawls and Habermas: Reason, Pluralism, and the Claims of Political Philosophy

Synopsis

This book offers a comprehensive evaluation of the two preeminent post-WWII political philosophers, John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas. Both men question how we can be free and autonomous under coercive law and how we might collectively use our reason to justify exercises of political power. In pluralistic modern democracies, citizens cannot be expected to agree about social norms on the basis of common allegiance to comprehensive metaphysical or religious doctrines concerning persons or society, and both philosophers thus engage fundamental questions about how a normatively binding framework for the public use of reason might be possible and justifiable. Hedrick explores the notion of reasonableness underwriting Rawls's political liberalism and the theory of communicative rationality that sustains Habermas's procedural conception of the democratic constitutional state. His book challenges the Rawlsianism prevalent in the Anglo-American world today while defending Habermas's often poorly understood theory as a superior alternative.

Excerpt

The hopeful intuition that the realization of political ideals like freedom or justice is deeply connected to the rational organization of society, such that the rational society would also be the just society, has been a touchstone in much of the history of Western political thought, at least among philosophers of a more high-minded sort. So long as philosophers retain trust in the soundness of this linkage, inquiry into the nature of the just society could be conceived of as a fundamentally rational enterprise, with a normatively desirable goal shared by rational beings. However tantalizing, such lines of thought have for some time now been in disrepute. Whether in the form of deconstruction, skepticism about “metanarratives,” concerns about Eurocentrism, scientistic reductions, or positivistic attacks on “metaphysics,” for well over a century Western philosophy has been pervaded by doubts about reason: its universality, its impartiality, its ability to guide human practice authoritatively. Given the centrality of the concept of reason to philosophy throughout its long existence, this could not help but transform its various subfields, and political philosophy has been no exception. On both sides of the Atlantic, as a result, much of the twentieth century has often been seen as a fallow period for political philosophy. While admirers of Louis Althusser, Isaiah Berlin, Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, and Michael Oakshott no doubt consider this a crude or misleading generalization, what is less contestable is that systematic projects like those of classical social contract theories or the sweeping philosophies of history of the nineteenth century lost much of their plausibility, and were replaced by an agenda dominated by more local projects, preoccupied not only with the waning force of universal reason but also with the moral and (eventual) . . .

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