John Rawls is a prominent 20th century philosopher. While his work is well respected, it is also a great source of controversy. Much of this controversy is rooted in the fact that his work has forced those in the areas of moral and political philosophy to pay attention.
I was first introduced to Rawls my senior year at the University of Utah. My first reaction was one of confusion and frustration. It is tough reading. That semester, I read both A Theory of Justice (1971) and Political Liberalism (1993). The later work on political liberalism reached out to me at first, partially because it was a bit friendlier read, but primarily because of Rawls argument that reasonable comprehensive doctrines (religious or philosophical worldviews) could accept liberal democratic principles of justice as the basis for a constitutional regime.
Rawls argues that his principles, known of justice as fairness, could represent the type of principles that reasonable world views could accept as part of an overlapping consensus. Rawls’ principles of justice are as follows:
1. Equality of basic liberties (a full range of basic civil and political liberties similar to those found in the Bill of Rights and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments of the US Constitution).
2a. Offices are open to all (equal opportunity).
2b. Economic arrangements must benefit all with the only acceptable inequalities of wealth be those that most benefit the least well off (this is known as the difference principle). This principle ultimately calls for and requires a radical for of economic and social equality.
Now I will be delving into these principles in more detail in future posts, but I was struck a decade ago with how closely LDS principles of agency and economic equality. In many ways, Rawls seeks to show that equality and liberty are not in opposition with each other, but they actually go together hand and hand.
Now the idea that Mormons could support a robust conception of civil and political liberty seems consistent with our deep reverence for the Constitution as a rights-protecting document. Now culturally and in practice, there might be some question as to whether Mormons actually have such a commitment. Yet, I think this would not negate the argument that Mormons reasonably could and should sustain equality of basic liberty.
The part of Rawls’ argument which is dearest to me is his argument for the difference principle (see 2b above). In many ways, this aspect of his argument is least palatable to most Mormons (and I argue that it is more radical than many assume) but in many ways it is even more supported by LDS scripture than modern ideas of individual liberty.
This project will lead to a series of posts here at FPR about Rawls and Mormon Thought. My next post will be a revised version of my first post at FPR dealing with the original position and the council in heaven. My intent is not to argue that Mormons should take a particular political philosophy, but to explain why this Mormon does.
This project is actually my dissertation, but I am hoping to gain insights from the erudite FPR readers who are willing to help me out. I would also like to share the method of my madness. Thanks.