"John Rawls and American Pragmatisms"
by Robert B. Talisse (Vanderbilt University)
This paper was written for and presented at "Rawlsian Liberalism In Context(s)" conference held at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in February, 2010. In it, the author argues, first, that there is no doctrine of "classical pragmatism" uniting the figures often identified as founding the movement; and, second, that contrmporary pragmatists ignore or dismiss Rawls
"The Rawlsian aspiration is to devise a practicable yet principled public conception of justice despite our deep disagreements. The strategy is to do political philosophy while holding deep metaphysical questions in suspension. But Rawlsians are not eliminativist; they do not deny that such questions matter or are meaningful. Rather, Rawlsians are quietist, they hold out the hope that we can make significant progress on political justice, freedom, and equality despite the lack of consensus over the ultimate nature of such matters. They aim for a principled politics that can recognize that inquiry into fundamental matters must continue. This Rawlsian project seems to me in line with what is best in the pragmatists: it is an attempt to engage directly with a pressing problem of modern life in a way that takes seriously the complexity and variety of human experience. Rawls is beating the contemporary classical pragmatists at their own game. The longer the pragmatists take in recognizing this, the more irrelevant their views become. And relevance is among the pragmatists’ self-professed criteria of success."
Robert Talisse is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at Vanderbilt University.