Book on the Habermas-Rawls Debate

Habermas and Rawls
Disputing the Political

Ed. by James Gordon Finlayson
& Fabian Freyenhagen

(Routledge, 2011)

315 pages


Habermas and Rawls are two heavyweights of social and political philosophy, and they are undoubtedly the two most written about (and widely read) authors in this field. However, there has not been much informed and interesting work on the points of intersection between their projects, partly because their work comes from different traditions — roughly the European tradition of social and political theory and the Anglo-American analytic tradition of political philosophy. In this volume, contributors re-examine the Habermas-Rawls dispute with an eye toward the ways in which the dispute can cast light on current controversies about political philosophy more broadly. Moreover, the volume will cover a number of other salient issues on which Habermas and Rawls have interesting and divergent views, such as the political role of religion and international justice.

The volume includes a new article by Jürgen Habermas in which he comments on the contributions.


The Habermas-Rawls Dispute: Analysis and Re-evaluation
James Gordon Finlayson and Fabian Freyenhagen

Part I: The Habermas-Rawls Dispute

1: Reconciliation through the Public Reason (1995) - Jürgen Habermas
2: Political Liberalism: Reply to Habermas (1995) - John Rawls
3: Reasonable versus True (1996) - Jürgen Habermas

Part II: Disputing the Political

4: Justice: Transcendental not Metaphysical - Joseph Heath
5: The Justice of Justification - Anthony Simon Laden
6: The Justification of Justice (1999) - Rainer Forst
7: Procedure in Substance and Substance in Procedure - James Gledhill
8: Habermas, Rawls, and Moral Impartiality - Chris McMahon
9: Rawls and Habermas on the Place of Religion in the Political Domain - Catherine Audard
10: Two Models of Human Rights - Jeffrey Flynn

11: Beyond Overlapping Consensus - James Bohman

Part III: Afterword

12: A Reply to my Critics - Jürgen Habermas

James Gordon Finlayson is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Head of Social and Political Thought at the University of Sussex. He is the author of the excellent "Habermas: A Very Short Introduction" (Oxford University Press, 2005).

Fabian Freyenhagen is a lecturer in political philosophy at the University of Essex. He is the co-editor (with Thom Brooks) of "The Legacy of John Rawls" (Continuum, 2005).


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1. Choose a specific area of study. You may want to isolate your focus to social activism, or study the works of past masters like Plato if you are more oriented to research and academia. You may want to eventually teach philosophy or humanities.
2. Delve further into subjects like epistemology, which is the study of knowledge, or existentialism which centers on the belief that the individual has full responsibility for his or her own life. There are dozens of other schools of philosophical thought to explore as you study for your masters or other advanced degree.
3. Become more involved in outside activities that incorporate what you've learned in class, including political debate and social activism. If you are interested in a career in public service, use some of what you've learned in philosophy in your part time job or other government-focused activities.
4. Earn a graduate degree in philosophy as an excellent foundation for law school. This advanced degree also affords students interested in theology or religion a basis for work in the ministry or other spiritual careers.
5. Work toward a thesis or non-thesis degree. Some schools offer this option to students, depending on their ultimate goal. Non-thesis students use their philosophy studies as a springboard to a career in law, government or another area. Thesis students are academically oriented and go on to pursue a doctorate in philosophy or other scholarly discipline.
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Interview with Michael Sandel

The new online journal "Art of Theory: A Political Philosophical Quarterly" brings an interview with Professor Michael Sandel (Harvard):

12 Questions with Michael Sandel


Art of Theory: What features of our political life most puzzle you?

Sandel: I would say the largely arid terms of political discourse, the thinness of public discourse in the world’s leading democracies. That’s the single most striking and worrisome thing.

It’s partly the tendency, over the past three decades, of economics to crowd out politics. This has been an age of market triumphalism. We’ve come to the assumption that markets are the primary instruments for achieving the public good. I think that is a mistaken notion and people are now beginning to question that.

It also has led to political discourse being preoccupied with technocratic, managerial, economic concerns. The broader public questions and ethical questions have been crowded to the side. (....)

At the level of political theory (and this is what I’ve tried to do in some of my work), we need to challenge the premise that a pluralist society, or a society based on mutual respect, must avoid or set aside substantive moral and spiritual questions or questions of the good life.

Also at the level of political theory, I think there needs to be a challenge to economistic visions of democracy. (....)

Excellent political theory is determined by how interesting the question is. (....) After the question is chosen I am a methodological pluralist — a radical methodological pluralist — to the point where I don’t even think we could lay down any meaningful criteria for the right research method.

Michael Sandel is Professor of Government at Harvard University. His latest book is "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009).

See some of my previous posts on Michael Sandel here, here, here & here.


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Toward a Positive Theory of Public Reason

Gillian Hadfield & Stephen Macedo have posted a new paper on SSRN:

"Rational Reasonableness: Toward a Positive Theory of Public Reason"

Why is it important for people to agree on and articulate shared reasons for just laws, rather than whatever reasons they personally find compelling? What, if any, practical role does public reason play in liberal democratic politics? We argue that the practical role of public reason can be better appreciated by examining the structural similarities in normative and positive political theory. Specifically, we consider the analytical parallels between Rawls’ account of political liberalism and a rational choice model of legal order recently proposed by Hadfield & Weingast (2011). The positive model proposes that a shared system of reasoning – a common logic – plays a key role in coordinating a stable equilibrium when legal rules depend on decentralized collective enforcement efforts by individual agents. The common logic enables individuals to predict how others will behave in the face of wrongful conduct and incentivizes participation in costly collective punishments by reassuring agents that their personal concerns will be taken into account in the resulting equilibrium. Rawls’s theory of political liberalism, we argue, is based on a comparable recognition that citizens in a pluralistic society face a practical as well as a moral problem in sustaining a stable political conception of justice. How can individual citizens have confidence that others will reciprocate their commitment to support fair and reasonable governing principles that depart from their own ideal conceptions of truth and value? Citizens face a practical problem of mutual assurance that public reason helps them solve by making individual ongoing commitments to a political conception of justice a matter of common knowledge. The solution, on both views, requires citizens’ reciprocal commitment to basing law on a system of shared public reasons. Both views thus place public reason at the core of liberal democratic politics in conditions of diversity, and for quite similar reasons. Our argument illustrates the (often) complementary roles of positive and values-based analysis in constitutional (in the broadest sense) design.

Gillian Hadfield is Professor of Law at the University of Southern California. See some of her recent papers here.

Stephen Macedo is Professor of Politics at Princeton University.

New book: Jürgen Habermas - Key Concepts

Jürgen Habermas: Key Concepts

ed. by Barbara Fultner

(Acumen, 2011)

256 pages


A rare systematic thinker, Habermas has furthered our understanding of modernity, social interaction and linguistic practice, societal institutions, rationality, morality, the law, globalization, and the role of religion in multicultural societies. He has helped shape discussions of truth, objectivity, normativity, and the relationship between the human and the natural sciences. This volume provides an accessible and comprehensive conceptual map of Habermas's theoretical framework and its key concepts, including the theory of communicative action, discourse ethics, his social-political philosophy and their applications to contemporary issues. It will be an invaluable resource for both novice readers of Habermas and those interested in a more refined understanding of particular aspects of his work.


Introduction, Barbara Fultner

1. Historical and Intellectual Contexts, Max Pensky

Part I: Communicative Rationality

2. Postmetaphysical Thinking, Melissa Yates
3. Communicative Action and Formal Pragmatics, Barbara Fultner
4. System and Lifeworld, Joseph Heath
5. Autonomy, Agency, and the Self, Joel Anderson

Part II: Moral and Political Theory

6. Deliberative Democracy, Kevin Olson
7. Discourse Theory of Law, Christopher Zurn

Part III: Politics and Social Change

8. Civil Society and Social Movements, Keith Haysom
9. Cosmopolitan Democracy, Ciaran Cronin
10. Rationalization, Modernity, and Secularization, Eduardo Mendieta

Barbara Fultner is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Denison University, Ohio. She is translator of Jürgen Habermas's "Truth and Justification" (MIT Press, 2003) and his "On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction" (MIT Press, 2000).


Review of "The Philosophy of Richard Rorty"

At "Notre Dame Philosophical Review", Paul Redding reviews "The Philosophy of Richard Rorty" (Open Court, 2010), ed. by Randall E. Auxier and Lewis Edwin Hahn:

Review of "The Philosophy of Richard Rorty"


"And for Rorty, as for Mill, the good community is one which maximizes the chances of individuals creating unique lives, which for Rorty implies fashioning the "vocabularies" with which they shape their outlooks and behaviors. To the extent that traditional philosophy seeks a source for norms in something other than human agreement, it is to be regarded as just an extension of religion. In short, to see our ideas or language as trying to represent something essentially independent from us - seeing philosophical knowledge as ideally a "mirror of nature" - is just another instance of thinking of ourselves as responsible to something other than other human beings."

Paul Redding is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney.

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