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Journal ArticleDOI

Rereading Rawls in Arendtian light Reflective judgment and historical experience

01 Jan 2008-Philosophy & Social Criticism (SAGE Publications)-Vol. 34, pp 137-155

AbstractWith Arendt's insight regarding the need of judgment in the background, this paper pursues the ways in which the need for theory, or political philosophy, articulates Rawls' overall approach in order to tell just from unjust institutions. It suggests that the Kantian mould of reflective judgment gives form to the construction of a theory of justice via the mechanism of reflective equilibrium. The need for theory so devised has to constantly move between the demands of theory itself - the social contract tradition as understood by Rawls - and the demands of action understood as the guide that our considered judgments lend to our understanding of the social world. Finally, it is also suggested that a particular grasp of the lessons of historical experience, as a way of fulfilling the need for theory that lies in the heart of the exercise of judgment, is what renders the Rawlsian proposal theoretically attractive, and what constantly underlies the construction of his theory via the particular exemplification and the theoretical rendering of the moral semantics underlying democratic culture.

Topics: Reflective equilibrium (62%), Exemplification (52%), Social contract (52%), Political philosophy (52%)

Summary (1 min read)

2 The need for theory

  • Not metaphysical, even there any effort to reach rational agreements will need to envisage abstract concepts and theories.
  • Only an ideological or visionary stance, he continues, would fail to experience such conflicts.

And he adds:

  • The authors turn to political philosophy when their shared political understandings, as Walzer might say, break down, and equally when they are torn within ourselves.
  • It is important to note that Rawls is trying to articulate the need for theory at two different but confluent levels: a first level of the immediate political life and a second level regarding the type of theory or philosophy to which the authors appeal when dealing with conflict and disagreement.
  • But, still further, the acknowledgment of this pluralist predicament determines the type of complex, rational justification that any doctrine aware of pluralism has to adopt.
  • Theory, in this sense, not only illuminates the depth of disagreements and conflicts, nor helps only in acknowledging pluralism; it not only describes their predicament: it demands, or is thought to demand, some type of guide for actions in the way of principles, as I understood them before.
  • The need for theory does, certainly, contain a free, detached, moment in which a very extensive realm of possible alternatives -be they in form of theories or of particular arguments and beliefs -can be envisaged.

3 Considered judgments and reflective equilibrium

  • As fiduciary figures of their moral and rational powers, the parties in the original positions are, in a way, philosophical alter egos that mirror the real moral egos we, as citizens, are.
  • But also, in adopting through them a hypothetical stance towards ourselves, towards their judgments and their convictions, the authors unfold their exercise in judgment: they both are there and here, they are both, so to say, spectators and actors in different and shifting positions.
  • When the authors are able to view ourselves in this hypothetical light, they adopt a distanced stance towards ourselves as actors; and, as actors, they check the exact concerned distance their fiduciary spectators must take.
  • This unfolding, reflective process incorporates the different moments of their faculty of judgment and shows that the appeal to theory is itself a moment of their practical exercise of this faculty.

4 From historical experience to theory and back again

  • But in order to downplay any naïf optimism, the authors could continue asking how it is possible that even those settled basic facts continue to be so widely denied (as torture, death penalty, exploitation and discrimination show), even in democratic cultures.
  • This question brings back Arendt's distress and makes her appeal to judgment absolutely relevant and contemporary.

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Carlos Thiebaut
Rereading Rawls in Arendtian
light
Reflective judgment and historical
experience
1 The importance of an Arendtian legacy
Very early in her Philosophical Diary, Arendt wrote: ‘If we leave aside
the faculty of judgment, everything turns into vertigo’.
1
Already by
1951, she was puzzled by the need of judgment and by the difficulties
of understanding what judgment is. Two things, over with which she
would be pondering all her life, underlie her acknowledgment of that
need and this perplexity. In the first place, there was her conviction, later
increased and further elaborated, that judgment, understood as the
capacity for distinguishing right from wrong, underlies the lack of
response to the swelling totalitarian historical processes that took place
in the first half of the past century. Arendt lived through those dark ages
in an exercise of understanding these processes and, for so doing,
struggled against the for-grantedness of current political understandings
or ideologies that, to her thought, missed the nature of the evils of
contemporary society; and she condemned their underlying philosophi-
cal hindrances – so she thought them – that prevented understanding and
led action to so many blind alleys. But, in the second place, the need of
judgment and the difficulties in understanding it frame her perplexity
regarding the ambivalent, Janus-status of judgment itself. Judgment is a
normative discriminatory capacity that relates, on the one hand, to the
distinct faculty of thinking or vita contemplativa because it brings into
the world the understanding and mapping of what right and wrong are;
but thinking, nevertheless, has to have a free and unconditioned status
as a personal exercise of rationality, even in solitude,
2
unconstrained by
1

the circumstances of action. Thus, on the other hand, judgment, as a
faculty that, at a specifically concerned distance, pertains to the specta-
tor and not to the actor, remains also segregated from immediate action
and politics, albeit it has to frame them if its discriminatory powers are
to have any function. As a distinct faculty, judgment – the faculty that
remained almost absent in dark times – is required as an exercise of
concernment and immediacy but requires, at the same time, the peculiar
distance that only theory can give. Arendt gave constant attention in her
writings throughout her life to this perplexing predicament of judgment
and her late systematic return to the Third Critique and to Kant’s politi-
cal writings has been shown to be a hidden thread to all her philoso-
phical endeavors.
3
In this article I will not be dealing with Arendt’s and Kant’s theories
of judgment and their known difficulties, but will take heed of the afore-
mentioned Arendtian insight regarding the need of judgment, an insight
that I take still to be, in mutated historical circumstances, absolutely
relevant. I would like to suggest that the need for judgment in order to
tell right from wrong, in Arendt’s terms, can be mirrored in Rawls’
proposal of the need for theory, or political philosophy, in order to tell
just from unjust institutions. Certainly, both needs, of Arendtian judgment
and of Rawlsian theory, are framed in very different philosophical
approaches – and specifically, in parallel and not coincident returns to
Kantian practical philosophy – but it may not be mistaken to say that
it is the same drive which moves both theoretical enterprises and, what
may be more significant, tints them with a host of similar strategies and
problems. Nevertheless, there is a hard philosophical problem, the roots
of which can be traced to Kant’s analyses of practical rationality, that
seems to differentiate Arendt’s and Rawls’ approaches. While Arendt
tried to understand Kant as developing a new type of philosophical
understanding of the political that in crucial points breaks away with
the understanding of moral rationality as determinate judgments, I would
suggest Rawls’ intention is to read back into Kant’s moral philosophy,
to the realm of the Second Critique, the reflective turn that the Third
Critique introduced in the realm of the aesthetic or, more precisely, to
discover that already Kant’s analysis of practical reason, and sometimes
pace his own examples, is reflectively modeled. The important, philoso-
phical issue here is the status of norms or principles in guiding action
and the process of their justification. Arendt stressed a certain paral-
lelism between Kant’s treatment of aesthetic judgments, with which we
judge when we do not have general rules, and the historical moments
she lived, which, in a somehow similar way, were characterized by ‘the
total collapse of moral and religious standards among people who to all
appearances had always firmly believed in them’.
4
Her interest in Kant’s
sensus communis is, like Kant’s, the urge to dispel with any arbitrariness
2

in such relevant matters and the possibility of forming discriminating
judgments – and thus norms and principles – that could guide action.
Rawls, on his side, starts with a less suspicious and more robust notion
of the guiding role of norms or principles as would be required by his
goal of articulating a theory of just institutions, but understands reflec-
tively the process of arriving at their justification as determining their very
validity. We can, thus, picture Arendt as trying to articulate judgment
in the search for principles, but without taking their definition or their
validity for granted, and even being suspicious of their alleged role, and
Rawls as not doubting their guiding function, but acknowledging the role
judgment plays in their justification. But in spite of these important
differences,
5
some important parallelisms come to the fore: both regard
politics as a sphere of action, as a type of institutions and practices, that
needs, first, to be understood as the realm of plurality and diversity and
that can be understood, second, as an exercise of a peculiar type of
rationality – i.e. practical rationality – that can be differentiated from
other rational enterprises. More specifically, both center their attention
in the idea of judgment as a clue to that type of political and practical
rationality and, in different though somehow parallel ways, both relate
the idea of judgment with what each takes the appeal to theory to mean.
With Arendt’s approach in the background, I will be pursuing the
ways in which the need for theory articulates itself in Rawls’ version of
the problem and pinpoint how the Kantian mould of reflective judgment
gives form to the construction of a theory of justice via the mechanism
of reflective equilibrium. Thus, I will not be going into the particulars of
Rawls’ theory – i.e. of the set of reasons and arguments that character-
ize his substantive liberal proposal – but will focus on the architecture
of his global design that exhibits, in the field of normative political
philosophy, the work of reflective rationality.
6
I will suggest that the
need for theory so devised has constantly to move between the demands
of theory itself – the social contract tradition as understood by Rawls
– and the demands of action that in this case are understood as the guide
our considered judgments lend to our understanding of the social world.
A final goal of my analysis will be to suggest that a particular grasp of
the lessons of historical experience, as a way of fulfilling the need for
theory that lies in the heart of the exercise of judgment, is what renders
theoretically attractive the Rawlsian proposal and what constantly
underlies the construction of his theory. His approach, which can be
taken as paramount of other similar philosophical theories of the last
30 years, is – sometimes with instabilities that are not minor – an
exercise of a certain kind of theory that frames judgments and is devised
to enhance them, but that relies on particular, historical exercises of
judgment in order to articulate itself even as theory and to show its very
plausibility.
3

2 The need for theory
In his justification of the fundamental ideas of political liberalism, and
in explaining the use of the abstract conceptions that build up its frame-
work, Rawls addresses a certain type of skepticism regarding the theor-
etical effort required in political philosophy. Although PL consciously
limits itself to the political, not metaphysical, even there any effort to
reach rational agreements will need to envisage abstract concepts and
theories. ‘In political philosophy’, he states, ‘the work of abstraction is
set in motion by deep political conflicts’ (PL, 44). Only an ideological
or visionary stance, he continues, would fail to experience such conflicts.
And he adds:
We turn to political philosophy when our shared political understandings,
as Walzer might say, break down, and equally when we are torn within
ourselves. We recognize this if we imagine Alexander Stephens rejecting
Lincoln’s appeal to the abstractions of natural right and replying to him
by saying: the North must respect the South’s shared political understand-
ing on the slavery question. Surely the reply to this will lead into political
philosophy. (PL, 44 f.)
It is important to note that Rawls is trying to articulate the need for theory
at two different but confluent levels: a first level of the immediate politi-
cal life and a second level regarding the type of theory or philosophy to
which we appeal when dealing with conflict and disagreement. At the
first level, closer to immediate political life, he seems to be arguing that
we cannot resort to the taken-for-granted character of communitarily
based values, for this character is, precisely, what is questioned: as it
breaks down when conflict arises any appeal to the justificatory role of
shared beliefs would fall below the importance and the reality of the
conflict itself. Certainly, not every political conflict or social disagree-
ment may need a full-flown theoretical enterprise, as Rawls’ work might
exemplify in our days or as Hobbes’, Locke’s or Rousseau’s did in earlier
times. The need for theory refers to those, in Rawls’ wording, ‘long-
lasting controversies’, whose depth and whose resolution have framed the
basic understanding of our democratic societies. Rawls’ two recurrent
examples, to the exemplary character of which I will return, if briefly,
in the last part of this article, are, on the one hand, the freedom of
conscience and the right of resistance that after the Reformation became
the matrices of theoretical and political liberalism, and, on the other, the
extensive debates that, as the above quote shows, divided North American
political culture regarding slavery and the nature of the union between
the states of the young republic. Both examples draw us to specific
historical experiences of conflict and disagreement and to very different
historical and cultural processes in the diverse western traditions, but a
4

general point could be made regarding them that puts into light one of
Rawls’ central insights that tints all his philosophical enterprise: the
acknowledgment of the fact that certain types of conflict unveil that
the diversity of comprehensive, philosophical and moral doctrines is a
permanent feature of a democratic public culture, a diversity the public
expression of which can only by barred by the use of force. This struc-
tural feature, of historical and social character, parallels a second type
of structural diversity, more general and of epistemological nature, that
springs from what Rawls terms the ‘burdens of judgment’ and that could
be summarized in the ulterior fact that ‘our most important judgments
are made under conditions where it is not to be expected that consci-
entious persons with full powers of reason, even after free discussion,
will all arrive at the same conclusion’ (PL, 58).
The former structural plurality of doctrines or this latter diversity
in the appraisal of values and beliefs, need not express themselves in
terms of explicit conflict or controversies, but underlie those that are
most relevant in our political self-understandings and explain how such
conflicts could not be resolved via the continuous reiteration of one of
the doctrines, judgments or beliefs in question nor, even less, via the
imposition of one of them over the others. It would be naïf not to
acknowledge that these options have been frequently the case in history,
but – and this is a crucial, Enlightenment insight – in the long run they
prove to be socially harmful and unsustainable. In order for a conflict
or dispute to be resolved, some modification in the order of the first-
order doctrines or beliefs is necessary and, Rawls’ suggestion, this is one
of the roles philosophy – and in political affairs, political philosophy –
has. Philosophy helps in this need to make explicit the reasons and
understandings that underlie the different positions and, thus, to turn
the taken-for-granted character they might initially have had into explicit
considered judgments. Nevertheless, this explicitness does not cancel
their diversity – it may even strengthen it – and the plurality of doctrines
and judgments will continue to be a structural trait in democratic
conditions. This first level in the appeal to theoretical considerations has
only pointed to the need of different doctrines to become reflectively
aware of the plurality in which they are already immersed and has not,
obviously, solved the conflict in which they might be engaged. Maybe
not all doctrines – as would be the case of tyrannical ideologies or
visionary doctrines – pass this initial test of reflexivity that would render
them, in Rawls’ terminology, as reasonable comprehensive doctrines,
and a serious problem thus arises concerning how to address these non-
reasonable positions. Leaving now aside Rawls’ position regarding the
limits of toleration, it must be underscored that a constant effort in his
analyses, and one of his best contributions, from TJ to his last writings
on public reason, is to push forward theoretical arguments that dissolve
5

Citations
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Abstract: What do we want from a theory of justice? Amartya Sen argues that what we should not want is to follow the social contract approach revived by John Rawls, or transcendental institutionalism, in its...

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Cites result from "Rereading Rawls in Arendtian light ..."

  • ...While I will focus on similarities between the method of reflective equilibrium in Rawls’ constructivism and the weak transcendental arguments of Jürgen Habermas’ method of rational reconstruction, Rawls’ approach may also be compared with that of Hannah Arendt.(9) Rawls and Habermas share a focus on a conception of political judgment that Arendt derives from Kant’s model of aesthetic judgment....

    [...]

  • ...While I will focus on similarities between the method of reflective equilibrium in Rawls’ constructivism and the weak transcendental arguments of Jürgen Habermas’ method of rational reconstruction, Rawls’ approach may also be compared with that of Hannah Arendt.9 Rawls and Habermas share a focus on a conception of political judgment that Arendt derives from Kant’s model of aesthetic judgment.10 Both are concerned, that is, not only with political judgment as subsuming particulars under universal principles, but also with a method of justification that seeks to make explicit the ideal principles that are implicit in particular judgments....

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Abstract: Political theorist Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) wrote little on Asia, but her 1963 Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil suggests how she might have evaluated responsibility for and judgment of war crimes in East Asia. I speculate first about how she might have regarded the 1946–1948 International Military Tribunal for the Far East, and I argue that she would have approved of the executions of those ruled culpable for the Rape of Nanjing while contesting much of the moral and legal thinking that led to them. Second, Arendt’s endorsement of the literary imagination as a tool for judgment allows us to read Hotta Yoshie’s 1963 A-bomb novel Judgment to explore how justice might have been served in the wake of the wartime use of nuclear weapons. 摘要: ナチス·ドイツによるユダヤ人虐殺の犯罪責任を再考察した「イエルサレム のアイヒマン」著者のハンナ·アーレント氏ならば、南京虐殺及び原爆投下をいか に裁いたであろう?東京裁判の記録や堀田善衛の小説「審判」にアーレント思想 を適用し、その法律的、倫理的な諸問題を解いてみる。

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References
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Book
01 May 2001

2,993 citations


Book ChapterDOI
01 Nov 2002
Abstract: Rawls offers what might be seen as three ideas of justification: the method of reflective equilibrium, the derivation of principles in the original position, and the idea of public reason. These can appear to be in some tension with one another. Reflective equilibrium seems to be an intuitive and “inductive” method. On one natural interpretation, it holds that principles are justified by their ability to explain those judgments in which we feel the highest degree of confidence. By contrast, the original position argument is more theoretical and more “deductive”: principles of justice are justified if they could be derived in the right way, institutions are just if they conform to these principles, and particular distributions are just if they are the products of just institutions. Justifications that meet the requirements of public reason need not have this particular form, but they are limited in a way that an individual's search for reflective equilibrium is not. The idea of public reason holds that questions of constitutional essentials and basic justice are to be settled by appeal to political values that everyone in the society, regardless of their comprehensive view, has reason to care about. This is more restrictive than the idea of reflective equilibrium, since not all of an individual's considered judgments, or even all of his or her considered judgments about justice, need meet this test.

165 citations


Journal Article
Abstract: Publication de la conference introductive d'une serie de conferences donnees par H. Arendt a la Nouvelle Ecole de la Recherche Sociale a partir du 10 fevrier 1965. Avant de traiter de questions ethiques en relation avec la politique, la philosophie et la religion dans ses interventions futures, H. Arendt revient ici sur l'origine de la moralite, sur la question des valeurs et des principes modernes de l'action, que viennent contredire les horreurs hitleriennes et staliniennes d'une histoire encore proche

127 citations



Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: This paper examines Hannah Arendt's views on judgment as they emerge from her account of political action. The first section outlines certain conceptual presuppositions that pertain to political life. The second section describes the role of judgment as it relates to, and is distinguished from, a variety of other mental faculties. The third and final section offers some critical and evaluative comments and suggests that Arendt's account ultimately fails to answer the most central questions about judgment.

29 citations


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Q1. What are the contributions mentioned in the paper "Rereading rawls in arendtian light: reflective judgment and historical experience" ?

Very early in her Philosophical Diary, Arendt wrote: `` If the authors leave aside the faculty of judgment, everything turns into vertigo '' this paper.