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« Jerrold Levinson on Music an Eros | Main | Susan Neiman on Morality in the 21st Century »

February 28, 2010



Thanks for the podcast, interesting topic.

As far as Rawls's veil of ignorance goes, I find myself siding with Raymond Geuss, who objects to the way in which this theoretical device tends to glorify ignorance. Moreover, Rawls's model is totally wrong when one is trying to understand how actual political decisions are made. They're made by real people with real histories, with real interests and partial concerns which they can't simply set aside at will.

I wonder whether a better approach to political philosophy wouldn't both take account of principles of justice as well as strive to be as informed as possible as to what history, sociology and economics have to say about human institutions, rather than simply glorifying ignorance and assuming that our (American) institutions are "basically just". The path traced by Raymond Geuss- whereby we don't simply take for granted the legitimacy of our political concepts but instead strive to understand how they've been deployed in action by various people at various times- seems to me preferable to that of Rawls.


Thanks for the podcasts! I enjoy them a lot.

However, I'm very dissatisfied with the failure of Jonathan Wolff to mention "The Modal Confusion in Rawls' Original Position" by the Levins in order to both contest the so-called superiority of Rawls' paper and to present the most powerful criticism of it. I think it's just as severe as not mentioning Plotinus' approach to the Problem of Evil when one discusses the Problem of Evil.


@jones - just curious, with regards to veil of ignorance and your statement "They're made by real people with real histories, with real interests and partial concerns which they can't simply set aside at will". I do agree that we all have our own biases growing old in different upbringings, but is it really not possible to identify which is a universal right or wrong thing to do? I guess the eternal inquiry into an absolute truth arises. Just curious to hear what you have to say.

Good day to all and excellent podcast indeed!



I do think that there are morally right or wrong answers to the question, "What is the right thing to do in case X," totally independent of what any one person may happen to think or desire. Hence I'm not a relativist, who would assert that this plurality of perspectives and unbringings means that there's no morally correct answer. My concern is more whether the right way to arrive at these questions is by positing a single abstract standard, which we can use to assess all situations in an identical way. I think this is way too reductionist a way of arriving at moral recommendations and understanding the moral salience of situations, and totally disregards the plurality of different situations and calling for moral appraisal. My concern is not that liberalism per se is mistaken, as that Rawls's formulation of it prizes ignorance over a more reflective approach that recognizes (through history and sociology, among others) the contingency and perhaps limitations of its own concepts. We are in an incredibly complex, globalized world, and this predicament is only intelligible in the light of the historical forces which shaped and continue to shape it. We can't assume that large-scale changes in capitalism and the welfare state can simply be dealt with a priori through Rawls's two principles, as opposed to understood in their particularities.

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