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Abstract

Since Rawls's Political Liberalism is by now the subject of a wide and deep philosophical literature, much of it excellent in quality, it would be foolhardy to attempt to say something about each of the major issues of the work, or to sort through debates that can easily be located elsewhere. I have therefore decided to focus on a small number of issues where there is at least some chance that a fresh approach may yield some new understanding of the text: Rawls's distinction between “reasonable” and “unreasonable” comprehensive doctrines; the psychological underpinnings of political liberalism; and the possibility that political liberalism might be extended beyond the small group of modern Western societies that Rawls's historical remarks suggest as its primary focus. I also include a discussion of the much-debated issue of civility and public reason, which could hardly be avoided given its prominence in the book's reception. This paper should therefore be read not as a comprehensive account of the work but as one person's attempt to grapple, very incompletely and imperfectly, with a book that is as great as any philosophy has seen on this topic of great human urgency.