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Autonomy and Disagreement: Can Rawls’s Overlapping Consensus Hold?


April 15, 2016
1:15 pm - 3:00 pm
Event Category:


Encina Hall West, Room 400

Political Theory Workshop with Paul Weithman (Notre Dame). Co-sponsored by the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, the Department of Religious Studies, and the Patrick Suppes Center for History and Philosophy of Science.  Open to Stanford University affiliates.Part of a series on Science, Religion, and Democracy. For a complete listing of events in the series, click here.

When John Rawls recast his conception of justice, justice as fairness, as a political liberalism, he famously introduced a new account of how his conception was to be stabilized.  According to Rawls’s later formulation of his view it was to be stabilized by an overlapping consensus.  Such a consensus holds when the various religious and moral views present in a pluralistic society draw on their own distinctive resources to support justice as fairness.  Rawls contrasted an overlapping consensus with a modus vivendi, a compromise to which contending parties subscribe for merely pragmatic reasons.  Rawls conceded that consensus on a single conception of justice was unlikely and that agreement was more likely to be reached on a family of liberal political conceptions of justice.

Some philosophers have recently argued that once Rawls made this concession he was, in effect, forced to accept stability-by-modus-vivendi because the terms of the consensus will be a compromise among whatever comprehensive views citizens actually hold.  This paper argues that these interpreters are wrong, and that Rawls is not driven to modus vivendi liberalism despite acknowledging pluralism about justice.

To request the pre-distributed paper, please contact Brenna Boerman.

The Political Theory Workshop offers faculty and other scholars an opportunity to present “in progress” or recently completed work to a diverse audience from political science, philosophy, law, and other social sciences and humanities.  Workshop papers come from all areas of political theory, including normative and positive theory, legal theory, and the history of political thought. Papers are circulated ten days before the seminar. Participants are expected to read the paper before the workshop.  Each session begins with comments and questions on the paper by a discussant, a brief response from the author, followed by a general discussion. All members of the university community are welcome to attend the workshop.