John Gray on Rawls and Buchanan

"Given such manifold singularities, what is the justification for modelling the person in a way that will inevitably screen out much of the variety of personal life? The answer, of course, is that unless the variety of personhood is ironed out, there will be no agreement on principles and so no upshot of contractarian deliberation. On the other hand, any abstraction from the particularities of persons already begs every important question in favour of liberalism. Behind the veil of ignorance, we are no longer ourselves, but ciphers, constructed expressly for the purpose of grounding liberal society. The derivation of liberal principles is then circular, since it works with the artificial persons of liberal theory and not with the varieties of personhood we find in the real world… The fact that an abstract or artificial person, screened by an imaginary veil of ignorance from that knowledge of his own life that is constitutive of any real person. Would choose a specific set of moral or political principles, if he were able to choose anything at all, has no force for any real person. For any real person, only the values he in fact upholds, the projects and attachments he actually harbours, can generate reasons for action." -- Liberalisms


  1. That is an absolutely brilliant quote.

    1. I thought so too. Gray is a brilliant thinker who has not been able to acknowledge the transcendental aspects of human life. But, being brilliant, he often has very keen insights.

    2. Gene: I have enough to read right now as it is, but I will have to add this to my wish list.

      A quick question: does your book, "Oakeshott on Rome and America" deal with Rawlsian approaches to rationalism? I planned on buying it anyway, but since I will be taking a course on theories of justice, I feel that I will need something to provide a non-rationalistic approach to politics that I am sure will permeate the course.

    3. Yes, I deal with Rawls somewhat. And, by the way, I would be happy to get you a copy at my author discount price: just let me know.

    4. Gene: that would be fantastic!!! Would you mind emailing me the details ...??

      Thank you very, very much!

    5. Just email me your snail mail address, and then I will tell you what my cost is.


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