Tuesday 15 July 2014, by
Rawls notes that political conceptions of justice may be revised as a result of their interactions with one another and as a result of the emergence of new groups and different political problems, and that new variations may be proposed from time to time just as older ones may no longer be represented: “It is important that this be so, otherwise the claims of groups or interests arising from social change might be repressed and fail to gain their appropriate political voice.” These points are reiterated in the Introduction to the paperback edition of Political Liberalism, where he notes that the principles, ideals and standards of argument that make up the content of public reason are those of “a family of reasonable political conceptions of justice and this family changes over time.” Changes may result from the debates between different reasonable conceptions of justice but also from social changes and the emergence of views raising new questions about issues such as ethnicity, gender and race. In short, “The content of public reason is not fixed, any more than it is defined by any one reasonable political conception.” A range of comprehensive moral views with a commitment to something like Emersonian perfectionism may well contribute to changes in the content of public reason over time. For some citizens this might be a welcome feature of a democratic political culture, but for others it might not be welcome. Perfectionism may take unreasonable as well as reasonable forms. The duty of civility that, according to Rawls, reasonable citizens owe to one another raises questions about the place of perfectionism in a democratic political culture that are not answered by Cavell’s insistence that it is necessary.