Justification and Application: The Revival of the Rawls–Habermas Debate

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 42 (3):399-432 (2012)
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Abstract

The Rawls–Habermas debate is having a revival. In this article I argue that both philosophers develop different freestanding conceptions of political legitimacy, and show how they diverge when it comes to how political legitimacy can be justified. Habermas is looking for a deeper justification than Rawls will allow for. I then proceed to show how the different meta-ethical positions yield two different versions of democratic theory, focusing in particular on rights and popular sovereignty. I demonstrate how both conceive of the co-originality of private and public autonomy, and subsequently take issue with Habermas’ reading of Rawls. I argue that Rawls should not be understood as a natural rights theorist, that Habermas misunderstands the role of the original position, and that Rawls cannot be considered a strong constitutionalist. Thus, the real difference between Rawls and Habermas revolves around their different conceptions of political legitimacy

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