The aim of this paper is to explore and question the potential of John Rawls’s theory of social justice as a tool for building a critical theory of society. My claim will be that Rawls’s approach to social theory cannot provide such a tool; as it will turn out, it faces very deep problems when faced with the task becoming a critical theory of society. Such problems originate mainly in the cognitive and epistemic structure of the “original position”. This, I believe, is bound to pose problems in the future for those of us who seek to make a politically radical use of the legacy of Rawlsian theory (see, e.g., Van Parijs, 1995 or Callinicos, 2000). By a critical theory of society, I mean a theory which aims not at describing the social world “as it is” in order to explain or understand it, but at describing the social world in such a way that the description itself triggers forces for social change within the social world being described. This is, indeed, the meaning of “critical”: to describe a state of affairs in such a way as to throw it into crisis by that very..
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