from is to ought

Susan Neiman’s Evil in Modern Thought was one of the major inspirations for the research I’m currently conducting, and revisiting that work as the project nears completion seemed necessary. The passage I wanted to reread was her remarkably original interpretation of Rawls, which I quote here:

Alfonso’s suggestioms were confined to the cosmos. A monarch, however enlightened, is unlikely to propose a world where accidents of birth do not determine the social order. But Rawls’s late work revealed that Alfonso’s impulse could reappear in analytic philosophy. Redesigning a piee of he world is a project undertaken in the hope of affirming the world as a whole. Kant’s influence on Rawls was clear in A Theory of Justice. But Justice as Fairness, conceived as a restatement of the earlier works, opens by invoking Hegel:

A third role of [political philosophy] stressed by Hegel in his Philosophy of Right (1821), is that of reconciliation: political philosophy may try to calm our frustration   and rage against our society and its history by showing us the way in which its institutions, when properly understood from a philosophical point of view, are rational, and developed over time as they did to attain their present, rational form. This fits one of hegel’s well-known sayings:  ‘When we look at the world rationally, the world looks rationally back’. He seeks for us reconciliation – Versohung – that is, we are to accept our social world positively, not merely to be resigned to it. (Rawls 3,3,)

Rawls avows his commitment to this role of political philosophy. If Rawls’s work more openly indicates hesitations imposed by the scrutiny of analytic philosophy, Auschwitz and Hiroshima are unspoken sources of his reluctance to write sotto voce.

She then continues to describe Rawls alliance with a very different philosophical task: the utopian critique of the actual. But she reads Rawls in both instances as being preoccupied with the intelligibility of a world ruled by arbitrary fortune – and that is to confront the problem of evil exactly as theodicy.

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~ by staticandme on February 25, 2009.

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