Rousseau on Rawls

John Rawls is most famous for his "veil of ignorance," which, in short, says that a just polity is one that everyone would choose if they had no idea of whom they would be in that society. As Anthony de Jasay has pointed out, this basically says, "If you make everybody the same person, we'll agree on political matters!" But, giving more evidence of Rousseau's genius, he anticipated and answered John Rawls 200 years before Rawls wrote:

"If there were no differing interests, we should scarcely be aware of the common interest, which would never meet any obstacle; everything would run by itself, and there would no longer be any skill in politics."


  1. Nice. Thomas Nagel makes a very similar point in his response to Rawls. He said that Rawls creates the "common good," that supposedly everybody wants, while he totally ignores the "particular conception of the good."

    I definitely don't agree with Rawls' A Theory of Justice, but at the same time, I can't help but love his work. At least he did something new, and at least he has spawned a debate that has lasted over 35 years. It's like what Robert Pirsig said in Lila. There are far too few philosophers these days, and far too many philosophogists.


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