« Michael Polanyi on the collapse of liberalism and the Rise of Fascism: Religion and Liberty | Main | Philosophers on Rawls' project; Forrester's In the Shadow of Justice, pt 2 »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Have you read Brian Kogelmann's review of the book, from The New Rambler? I thought it was very good. (It has some similarities with Freeman's, but differences as well.) It's here: https://newramblerreview.com/book-reviews/philosophy/political-philosophy-and-the-search-for-the-possible

Eric Schliesser

Thank you Matt. Kogelman's review gives at least a decent summary of what's in the book. And because he also focuses on the founding of Philosophy and Public Affairs and its aims, I think he does a good job of conveying what I think at least part of the explicit thesis of the book is. (But he too misses its connection with the politics of political philosophy.) He makes a plausible case that Rawls' own view of what political philosophy should be is not what Forrester's is. And he offers an elegant defense of it. But his response does not really address her arguments for her thesis. I may blog about this.

Aaron Lercher

It's good that premise [X] is not in Forrester or Táíwò, since Rawls says the moral persons behind the veil are able to appeal to any social science. That's a wide open invitation!

Freeman's irate review fits my mood when trying to read Forrester's erudite book. I am annoyed because the book bypasses normative argument, while at the same time it tries to enjoy the benefits of normative criticisms of Rawls. I managed to make use of Forrester's book by reading it as an elaborate commentary and bibliography, rather than as history of philosophy. Thank you, Professor Forrester, for the reference to Boxill's Blacks and Social Justice!

History of philosophy, I think, requires one to do philosophy. History of political philosophy requires one to spell out normative premises and arguments, which can be boring and awkward. Forrester gives us fragments of arguments. The discussion of Wittgenstein's influence on Rawls and Hart in Chapter 1 is one example among many. Is this a criticism of Wittgenstein's influence, or Rawls and Hart, or both? Forrester seems to assume that any use of Wittgenstein is "right Wittgensteinian" (Williams) and hence conservative. A detour into Wittgenstein interpretation is required here if Forrester wants to pursue this, but Wittgenstein interpretation requires many years of work.

Normative argument in political philosophy, then, also in turn requires us to make our non-normative premises explicit too. For example, if one thinks that Rawls's theory is inadequate to deal with gender inequality, then the fact of humans' extreme interdependency, in childhood and old age especially, demands a clear discussion. Nussbaum's normative criticisms of Rawls does that. Then we can start to come up with the normative premises that are missing from Rawls's theory.

No one is required to be a philosopher in every part of life. Ethics, however, comes closest to imposing that requirement, but only in cases in which the failure to inquire into normative matters would lead to morally wrong actions. Forrester's avoidance of normative inquiry is a mistake, because her topic really requires it. But, like the political philosophy she criticizes, her mistake is not a moral failure.

Now, about "ideal theory" (because that's behind all of this): it seems to me that in an increasingly non-ideal world, it is increasingly necessary to refer to an "ideal" in order to talk about "justice" at all. How is one to reason about this thing, justice, if one never can refer to any example of it in a non-ideal world? (That is, if it is anything at all.) In an increasingly non-ideal world, one is compelled to refer to an abstract justice of some kind.

Aaron Lercher

My previous comment argues that Forrester's book does not uphold an obligation of fair play for the practice of normative theorizing. Forrester seems to reject such obligations.

Here's a different interpretation: Forrester is crypto-normative. Her book attempts to shift the burden of normative judgment (and the risks of judgment) onto the reader. By refusing to make explicit normative commitments, and by describing the practical situation in great detail, Forrester hopes the reader will grasp for herself what the reader's obligations are. (This is like Foucault. But I think Thomson's use of hypothetical cases does this more explicitly.) Freeman describes Forrester's book as "deconstructive," which seems to me to be a less successful attempt to make a similar point.

The normative risk-shift, however, is pointless for readers who are already engaged in normative political philosophy or other normative ethics. They already feel the burden of coming up with better accounts for all the areas where Rawls fails to deliver conclusions that they feel are lacking. (Among others: rights of immigrants, rights against environmental pollution, abortion rights, the right of workers to go on strike, the claim to reparations for past oppression and conquest, the claim to childcare and elder care institutions that do not privatize these tasks.)

For myself, I do not see these issues solely from the view of a normative theorist. Anyone who engages in political struggle wants to win, while normative theory is not really for the winners. As Rousseau says at the beginning of Social Contract: "If I were a prince or a legislator I wouldn’t waste my time saying what should be done; I would do it, or keep quiet."

L. Cooper

Posting this rather late, but if anyone is interested in my short-ish review of Forrester, at the S-USIH blog from March 2021, it's here:


I don't think her normative commitments, while they may not always or often be explicit, are especially hard to discern. Just to take one example, she doesn't like (although she never says that directly) what she calls "the shift to abstraction" in theorizing about global justice (see the end of ch.5) -- I don't discuss this in the review, actually. That's tied in with her sympathy to criticisms of "ideal theory." (Maybe those are methodological preferences, not normative commitments?) She is clearly sympathetic to feminist criticisms of Rawls, though the reference to the feminist critics is rather brief. And she faults Rawlsians for not giving "the kind of account of collective politics in a class-divided society that might have enabled" their agenda or "vision." (p. 237)

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


Blog powered by Typepad