Hesperus is Bosphorus

A group blog by philosophers in and from Turkey

Talk at Istanbul Technical University, Alberto L. Siani (Yeditepe University): OVERLAPPING DISAGREEMENT. For a Dissident Reading of Rawls

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On a standard reading, Rawls’s central claim is that, once philosophy produces an adequate account of rationality together with certain constraints aiming at reaching “fair” conclusions, and once this account is adequately expressed through the original position device, there will be a unanimous rational agreement (in A Theory of Justice) or an overlapping consensus (in Political Liberalism) on the two principles of justice and on the whole liberal-egalitarian conception. Against this standard reading I propose a “dissident” one (section 1), whose central point is not so much whether we (can) agree or not on Rawls’s design of the original position or even on his formulation of the principles of justice, but rather that political liberalism provides the right conceptual tools to inquire into the possibility, critical and progressive character and limits of a political agreement not conceived as the unanimous result of rational argumentations by reasonable citizens. I claim that political liberalism has a radical innovative potential for political philosophy that still needs to be fully actualized, and that this potential lies in the non-philosophical conception of the elements of political agreement and disagreement, and in their philosophical explicitation for political purposes. To the aim of a fuller appropriation of this potential I work around two poles: overlapping disagreement and reconciliation.

I juxtapose to the notion of “overlapping consensus” (explicitly central in political liberalism) the notion of “overlapping disagreement” which, though not being explicitly thematized as such, is arguably equally central to the political liberalism project (section 2). By introducing this notion, my main intention is rebutting the reading according to which Rawls attempts an explanation of the consensus on the principles of justice based on a philosophical theory of rationality yielding univocal and ahistorically valid results. Against this reading, I place Rawls’s understanding of political consensus within his idea of the task of political philosophy and show that he employs a rather minimalistic and flexible version of consensus. Political liberalism gives up once and for all the idea that philosophy or rationality are capable of establishing consensus even among reasonable individuals, let alone among unreasonable ones. On the contrary, political liberalism aims at showing that political agreement, if possible at all, has to be achieved on the basis of given political ideas, which constitute the groundwork of the philosophical construction, but are not themselves philosophically deduced. In other terms, political liberalism delimits the space of the public discussion on the political conception (section 3). Within this space, the domain of public reason, Rawls then proposes justice as fairness as the most reasonable candidate for a political conception, whereas it is fundamental to stress that he never claims that justice as fairness is the univocal philosophical answer to the task delineated by political liberalism, nor, for that matter, that there is such a univocal philosophical answer. In fact, within public reason overlapping disagreement persists even at the level of the definition of the contents of the political conception. The task of political liberalism and that of justice as fairness are hence to be kept well distinct, something I emphasize even against Rawls’s own duct of argumentation.

I then argue that both tasks constitute the two steps of a project of philosophical reconciliation, a project whose centrality emerges in the Rawlsian works especially after Political Liberalism (section 4). Finally, I discuss the limits of reconciliation through philosophy in order to consolidate the thesis that overlapping disagreement can never be fully dissolved through philosophical means, and that political liberalism is, in virtue of its realistic yet not resigned understanding of the task of political philosophy, is a formidable discussion partner for the debate on justice beyond consensus (section 5).


Istanbul Technical University

20 October 2015, 1:30 pm
ITB Seminar Room


Written by albertolsiani

October 14, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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