A propos of a recent thread on whether it is irrational to reject Rawls’s two principles of justice, I thought I would offer my decidedly uninformed take on the issue. From my summer Rawls reading, I’m inclined (thus far) to conclude that Rawls did not think that one must accept his two principles of justice on pain of irrationality. What commands our assent to the two principles of justice is not reason, according to Rawls, but rather our ‘sense of justice,’ a topic broached in an earlier post. How could it be otherwise, when one considers:
1. Rawls ‘derives’ his two principles of justice from his ‘analytical construction,’ the Original Position. These are the principles rational individuals would select behind the ‘veil of ignorance.’
2. But of course we are not, in fact, behind a veil of ignorance, and it would be silly to suggest that a rational individual, in deciding what he ought or ought not to do, or the policies he ought or ought not to support, should ignore actual facts concerning his actual circumstances and privilege hypothetical facts concerning hypothetical circumstances. (Keep in mind Rawls is deliberately assuming a narrow conception of rationality, basically calculative reasoning in view of promoting one’s self interest.)
3. In short, the fact that, qua rational individual, I would select the principles of justice when behind a veil of ignorance, tells me nothing about which principles I should (rationally) support when not behind the veil of ignorance.
4. So should we just ignore the OP and the principles of justice that fall out of it? Here’s the point: this isn’t a live option for those of us with a healthy ‘sense of justice,’ or those of us who genuinely value fairness. So it’s this sense of justice that ties us to the two principles, that invests these principles with their normative weight and bindingness. It is not REASON–at least narrowly construed, as Rawls is construing it for purposes of the OP.
So that’s my take on the rationality issue–according to Rawls, it is not necessarily irrational to reject the principles of justice. If I am mistaken about this, let’s hear why. My reading of Rawls also goes to the issue of ‘universality’–on this reading, the principles of justice will only apply (where ‘apply’ = ‘be de facto binding’) on those who share our ‘sense of justice’ or something close to it. Presumably, not everyone does–the “outlaw societies” from Law of Peoples, perhaps?