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Title: J. Rawls's Idea of an 'Overlapping Consensus' and the Complexity of 'Comprehensive Doctrines'
Author(s): KILAN, Banu
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 16    Issue: 1   Date: March 2009   
Pages: 21-60
DOI: 10.2143/EP.16.1.2036277

Abstract :
John Rawls’s 'model case' for an overlapping consensus demonstrates the way in which different contents of reasonable comprehensive doctrines can be relevant in different persons’ affirmation of a political conception (e.g. 'justice as fairness'). On the one hand, Rawls argues that citizens themselves decide how their doctrines relate to the political conception, while on the other, he seems to impose certain expectations, not only concerning the relation between political and non-political values, but also in the very way persons relate to their own comprehensive views. These aspects call into question the acceptability of political liberalism to comprehensive doctrines that do not give a special place to values like autonomy and rationality. The model case also sees persons’ comprehensive views as abstract and closed ‘totalities’ detached from a socio-cultural dimension. When seen from these perspectives, although they have different contents, 'reasonable comprehensive doctrines' risk becoming similar in form: homogenous and monolithic totalities devoid of dynamism and interaction. This picture is not only too simplistic with respect to the plurality of doctrines that exist in our multi-cultural societies, but it also runs the risk of including fewer people within Rawls’s idea of an overlapping consensus. This paper first explores the relation between 'reasonable pluralism' and 'overlapping consensus', and then demonstrates how Rawls’s 'wide view of public reason' opens up an inter-subjective perspective in political liberalism that can challenge the simplistic appearance of a comprehensive doctrine.

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