Economics to Social Philosophy: the Foundations of John Rawls's Contribution



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These essays are an attempt to understand Rawls’s use of economics in developing his system in A Theory of Justice. The intensive use of and reference to economic theory, I will argue, is deeply involved with how the theory was originally conceived. The critical response to Rawls has thus far mostly ignored this line of thinking. For instance, Pogge’s reference to Rawls building an early version of his original position based on an idea in Knight (as relayed to Pogge in personal conversation) has resulted in almost no connection between Rawls and Knight in the literature. Rawls’s extensive use of parallels with economics is key to how the system functions. Strands of analysis connected to the idea of a thought experiment, to decisions made behind the veil of ignorance, and to the system relying on moral impulse as motivation are all tangential to what actually drives the system. Rawls in fact utilizes, at base, a rather severe form of modeling. This sets up an enormous contrast with utilitarianism, where increases in levels of information and of benevolence are both central ingredients. Neither benevolence nor full information are at the center of the process for Rawls. There is an automaticity at the hinge point in Rawls that has baffled a large portion of the philosophical community. These papers hope to explain some of these elements.