Is Rawls Really a Kantian Contractarian?

Public Reason 8 (1-2) (2016)
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In most of the introductions to Rawls and contemporary contractarianism, Rawls is seen as the representative of Kantian contractarianism. He is understood as inheriting a contractarian tradition that can be traced back to Kant and which has inspired followers such as Barry and Scanlon. This paper argues that the label does not fit Rawls. While a Kantian contractarian would presuppose a monistic conception of practical reason, Rawls is a hybrid contractarian who presupposes a dual conception. I shall first argue that the way in which a contractarian model is labeled is determined by its conception of practical reason. Then I show that Rawls and Kantian contractarians assume different conceptions of practical reason, and therefore should be seen as belonging to two strands of thought. I further argue that, although Rawls acknowledges his intellectual affiliation with Kant, he cannot be considered a Kantian contractarian in the commonly understood way. In his Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, Rawls interprets Kant as endorsing a hybrid contractarian model that is similar to his. By understanding Rawls as a hybrid contractarian and not confusing his philosophical project with that of Kantian contractarians, Rawls’s contribution to the history of contractarianism can be better evaluated.



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Baldwin Wong
Hong Kong Baptist University

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References found in this work

Morals by agreement.David P. Gauthier - 1986 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Being Realistic About Reasons.Thomas Scanlon - 2014 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kantian constructivism in moral theory.John Rawls - 1980 - Journal of Philosophy 77 (9):515-572.
Political Liberalism: Expanded Edition.John Rawls - 2005 - Columbia University Press.

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