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Paul M.

Nguyen (OMV) Contemporary Philosophy, OConnor October 24, 2011 Essay Response to Lecture VI Political Liberalism, John Rawls In this sixth lecture, Rawls addresses public reason as the mechanism which a society has for formulating its plans, of putting its ends in an order of priority and of making its decisions accordingly. He also claims that reason is the ability to do these things, based on the citizens' intellectual and moral power (p. 21213). I found particularly interesting his discussion of the Supreme Court as Exemplar of Public Reason, at least in a constitutional regime with judicial review for which public reason is the reason of its supreme court (6, p. 231). Rawls identifies early on that there are two senses of the power of the people: their power to empower representatives for their own government, and their power to engage those representatives in their government; these he calls higher and ordinary, respectively. He then posits that the duty of the Supreme Court is to take what the people have established in their higher law process as their governing Constitution and then to decide the constitutionality of various policies and legislation. This relates to his idea of the public in that the decision of the Supreme Court is to be made in such a way that all members of the society can reasonably be expected to endorse and follow it. He then moves into a discussion justifying his claim that the Supreme Court is exemplary of public reason, institutionally, because this is the only kind of reason employed (he earlier discusses various kinds of reason involving multiple parties but having various degrees of openness, the farthest reaching of which is this public reason). Rawls delineates what topics the Supreme Court can address, based on its use of public reason; because it is so public, and reaches all members of society, it must take into account all their views, deciding cases only when constitutional essentials and basic justice are at stake (p. 235). The

interesting point is the one in which Rawls demands that the justices of this court appeal to no comprehensive doctrines, much less a truth (such as natural law; he sees truth as relative to each person and their doctrine), but rather to the principles and values that all citizens as reasonable and rational might reasonably be expected to endorse (p. 236). Here, Rawls' lapse in appeal to truth (which evidently there must have been at the writing of the constitution; surely it was not based on falsity) seems to lead too easily to fundamentally wrong policies, which, though Rawls would argue is irrelevant due to his desire that the people govern themselves according to principles they can expect each other to accept, are, indeed wrong and therefore would bring about the demise of that society. The idea of the publicity of the Supreme Court's reason is compounded by Rawls' statement that the constitution is not what the Court says it is. Rather, it is what the people acting constitutionally through the other branches eventually allow the Court to say it is (p. 237). This is all within his system, but in practice, this seems that a great deal could get through the system and be passed by those representatives constitutionally placed into the other branches in such a way that the peoples' interests as a whole are not preserved. Rawls also suggests that, in the case of issues like abortion and other life issues, great ideological division among the citizens can be reconciled by a court adhering to the principles established in the Original Position. That is, everyone can accept, though possibly reluctantly, the outcome of those principles, and therefore can be expected to endorse subsequent decisions made on that foundation. I think it is easy to see the reality of a slippery slope of permissiveness that really degrades the moral character of a society. Rawls would argue that his system's responsible freedom (by virtue of the public nature of society) is preferable to a rigorous moral code that would prohibit things that men as men could accept and expect each other to accept. And he even

acknowledges that, in the case of the abortion issue, a thought to the responsibility of one generation to the ones to follow should have an impact on the way in which they make their decisions.