Reconstructing Rawls II: personal positioning for the critique

Continuing from my first post using a “constructivism+” framework to reconstruct Rawls’s Theory of Justice:

Constructivism+, to be consistent, must be applicable to its proponents’ own arguments.  Let me help readers begin to develop an interpretation of the social location of my project here by giving a sense of its history and motivations, and of my intended relation to the essay’s audiences.  My formal introduction to moral philosophy, a faculty seminar on “Global Environment and International Justice,” was recent, and it was as a discussion paper for that seminar that this essay was drafted.  In this essay I deliberately position myself here as an outsider and newcomer, whose naivete might protect him from being drawn inside a picture that holds career moral philosophers captive (to borrow an image from Wittgenstein).  I enjoy having an outsider’s freedom to write without attending to the fine points of argument and counter-argument in the literature.  (Notice the small number of footnotes and parenthetical asides.)  This expository position should ensure my accessibility to nonspecialists, and I hope my reconstruction of A Theory of Justice will speak more directly and concretely than most accounts to their concerns about injustice.  My intention is also to address specialists, an audience who I hope will be challenged both by the coherence of my reconstructed Rawls and by my critique of two-step moral theory.

Of course, in the eyes of specialists the freedom of being an outsider and a newcomer brings serious disadvantages: a lack of engagement with the intellectual and professional activities of the discipline; inevitable overgeneralizations and inexpert use of terms; and an inability to elaborate a replacement philosophy of justice.  Some readers might see room for themselves to tease out my arguments and weave selected pieces of them into their own work.  In light of my disadvantages, however, most specialists will be inclined to discount this intervention.  They might see it simply as a colonizing attempt by a constructivist from another field, namely, social studies of science, or, perhaps as an attempt by a political activist turned academic to achieve some “command” of the world by puzzling out issues until the pieces can be fitted together in a way that makes sense — in short, to find some satisfaction in philosophy.  While these last two readings would not be unjustified, they nevertheless reinforce the central contention of this paper.  Representations can be more richly interpreted by paying attention to the authors’ embedded views of their action in the world.

(Next post)


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