The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cato Unbound » Blog Archive » The Range of Justice (or, How to Retrieve Liberal Sectual Tolerance)

This understanding of political philosophy—as the theorist’s vision of the perfectly just society based upon her “intuitions” or controversial “theory” of justice—is facing a crisis of credibility. Perhaps the original hope was that the systematic use of human reason would lead enquirers and citizens to converge on the truth about “distributive justice” or “the role of the state,” but any impartial observer must conclude what should have been obvious all along: as in so many matters, the free use of human reason leads to sustained disagreement and a proliferation of sects. This is not a mere episode on the way to consensus and enlightenment, but “a permanent feature of the public culture of democracy.”[1] Such was the deep insight of the greatest political philosopher of the twentieth century, John Rawls. Because the use of our reason on these matters is inherently controversial, political philosophy must, as he tells us, apply the principle of toleration to philosophy itself. Liberalism’s founding insight was the recognition in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that controversial religious truths could not be the basis of coercive laws and public policies. The task is now to apply this insight to philosophizing about justice itself. This is an extraordinarily difficult lesson for many. Can it really be that I should not endeavor to ensure that my society conforms to my “knowledge” of justice? (Compare: can it really be that my “knowledge” of God’s will should not structure the social order?)


Jerry Gaus is a thinker you should inform yourself about if you are a Hayekian, classical liberal, and/or non-nutty libertarian etc. sort of person. For the massively ambitious or merely spendthrift, his opus The Order of Public Reason is now out in paperback. New lines of thought are relevant, inter alia, to the old project of "fusion". --ts

| Permalink