Politics and Ethics Review 3 (2):217-235 (2007)

Giovanni De Grandis
University College London
The paper defends the theoretical strength and consistency of Rawls's constructivism, showing its ability to articulate and convincingly weave together several key ethical ideas; yet it questions the political relevance of this admirable normative architecture. After having illustrated Rawls's conception of moral agency and practical reason, the paper tackles two criticisms raised by Scheffler. First the allegation of naturalism based on Rawls's disdain of common sense ideas on desert is rebutted. It is then shown that, contrary to Scheffler's contention, Rawls takes proper account of our moral sentiments in the process of constructing his normative theory. Finally, the second criticism is assessed, namely the inability of Rawls's theory to increase consent around liberal policies. Despite disagreement with details of Scheffler's argument, it is suggested that the failure of recent normative liberal theories to have a political impact belies their inability to take into proper consideration the reality of politics. A more realistic appraisal of political life and of historical events and developments are called for if political philosophy wants to be something more than an academic exercise.
Keywords Desert  Free agency  Liberalism  Moral sentiments  Rawls  Political realism
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DOI 10.3366/per.2007.3.2.217
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