Why Political Liberalism? On John Rawls's Political Turn

Why Political Liberalism? On John Rawls's Political Turn

Why Political Liberalism? On John Rawls's Political Turn

Why Political Liberalism? On John Rawls's Political Turn


In WHY POLITICAL LIBERALISM?, Paul Weithman offers a fresh, rigorous, and compelling interpretation of John Rawls's reasons for taking his so-called "political turn". Weithman takes Rawls at his word that justice as fairness was recast as a form of political liberalism because of an inconsistency Rawls found in his early treatment of social stability. He argues that the inconsistency is best seen by identifying the threats to stability with which the early Rawls was concerned. Oneof those threats, often overlooked by Rawls's readers, is the threat that the justice of a well-ordered society would be undermined by a generalized prisoner's dilemma. Showing how the Rawls of "A Theory of Justice" tried to avert that threat shows that the much-neglected third part of that book is ofconsiderably greater philosophical interest, and has considerably more unity of focus, than is generally appreciated. Weithman painstakingly reconstructs Rawls's attempts to show that a just society would be stable, and just as carefully shows why Rawls came to think those arguments were inconsistent with other parts of his theory. Weithman then shows that the changes Rawls introduced into his view between "Theory of Justice" and "Political Liberalism" result from his attempt to remove the inconsistency and show that the hazard of the generalized prisoner's dilemma can be averted after all. Recovering Rawls'stwo treatments of stability helps to answer contested questions about the role of the original position and the foundations of justice as fairness. The result is a powerful and unified reading of Rawls's work that explains his political turn and shows his enduring engagement with some of the deepestconcerns of human life. "Weithman has written a masterful work of Rawls scholarship. This book will deepen our understanding of how and why Rawls restructured his theory, and illuminate this fascinating transition in the history of political philosophy." Leif Wenar, Chair of Ethics, Kings College London"Weithman's reconstruction of Rawls's arguments is masterful, convincing and in many ways revelatory. Readers will find that the text provides compelling answers to a lot of puzzling questions about Rawls's project that have lingered for some time. Perhaps most importantly, Weithman gives the best explanation to date of exactly why Rawls felt compelled to revise his theory as he did." Colin Bird, Department of Politics, University of Virginia


Rawls made the changes between tj and pl because he became dissatisfied with arguments that were critical to the presentation of justice as fairness in his first book. Any serious attempt to explain those changes must therefore identify the arguments with which Rawls became dissatisfied and say why he came to think they were unsatisfactory. in Chapter ii, I shall say what I think those arguments were and what problems Rawls found with them. My account of the changes between tj and pl challenges what I take to be the standard explanation of those changes. I shall refer to that explanation as the Public Basis View of the changes, and I shall devote this chapter to laying it out and evaluating it.

The label I have attached to the Public Basis View is new, but I think the View itself is widely accepted. Indeed, I believe that most readers who have an opinion about why Rawls introduced the changes between tj and pl accept the Public Basis View in some form. I shall begin by developing the Public Basis View of the changes as an ideal type. I believe that the essentials of the View will be recognizable to those familiar with literature about, and discussion of, Rawls’s turn to political liberalism. Later, I shall suggest that some philosophers who have developed prominent political liberalisms of their own endorse the Public Basis View of Rawls’s political turn.

§I.1: Initial Statement of the Public Basis View

The Public Basis View of Rawls’s transition is most easily explained and made vivid by relying on a certain picture of Rawls’s WOS—a picture according to . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.