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Politics and the public in Rawls' Political Liberalism

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This paper is a critical discussion of a number of related themes in John Rawls' Political Liberalism. First, it considers whether Rawls' recent statement of his position proceeds from an adequate methodology for political theory. In particular, it questions whether Rawls has succeeded in accommodating both universalist, analytic and particularist, interpretive aspects of the political theoretical enterprise. Second, it engages in critical analysis of the conceptions of the political and the public which lie at the core of Rawls' theory. In this part of the paper, an important though not exclusive focus will be certain questions raised by Susan Moller Okin and other feminist critics of Rawls about the internal consistency of his conception of justice. It is argued that Political Liberalism neither addresses these questions explicitly nor, contrary to Okin's view, provides implicit conceptual tools which could allow a sympathetic interpreter of Rawls to do so. The direction of the argument will suggest certain preconditions for the development of a more substantively and methodologically adequate approach to political theory.

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