John Rawls Made a Mistake at the Beginning

And so he got everything basically wrong.
Because “comprehensive doctrines” and the robust moral convictions that stem from them tend to collide and compete, Rawls thought that a pluralistic society needs to take a very modest approach to political debate, restricting arguments to “public reason,” which in his terminology means giving arguments based on principles that most people will accept.

Here’s how it works. For the most part those who support voluntary euthanasia do so because of their beliefs about the meaning and purpose of human life. “It’s futile to prolong a life that has no hope of fulfillment,” someone might say. Meanwhile, those who are opposed to doctor-assisted suicide often say: “It’s not our place to decide who dies and when they die.”

Very different views of what it means to be human lie behind these statements, with one side elevating autonomy and the quality of personal experience, and the other side emphasizing a submission to reality, even it its painful and challenging forms. Yet, according to Rawls, because they—man-as-maker-of-meaning vs. man-as-grateful-recipient—are “comprehensive doctrines,” they should not be invoked as public reasons.
Thanks Prof. Reno!

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