From Hartlepool to Habermas: resolving the Progessives’ Prisoner Dilemma

First, even though the idea of contract is used by Rawls to determine the nature of just social institutions and corresponding behavioural demands, Rawls’s analysis relies not so much on strong-armed enforcement of the agreement (as in many contractarian theories), but on people’s willingness to follow how they have, as it were, ‘agreed’ to behave. This way of seeing the issue has tended to distance Rawls from the need for punitive enforcement, which can be entirely avoided, at least in theory. Behavioural norms, then, take a post-contract reconstructed form …….The demonstration of mutual advantage as a prelude to the contract in the original position yields the contract, and that in turn — at least the imagination of it (since it is a purely hypothetical contract) — shapes the behaviour of human beings in societies with just institutions set up through the principles embedded in the contract.

Second, another feature that takes Rawlsian analysis well beyond the usual arguments for decent behaviour for the sake of mutual advantage is Rawls’s way of ensuring that in the original position no one can argue or bargain from the knowledge of his or her actual position in society, but has to do so from behind the veil of ignorance. This moves the exercise from the pursuit of actual advantage for oneself to the promotion of advantage for the community as a whole, without knowing what one’s own personal advantage would be in that overall picture. There is surely impartiality enough in this respect in the Rawlsian story, and yet the tie with advantage-seeking justification of cooperation, in this case in an impartial form (thanks to the veil of ignorance), is not transcended through this extension. (p204)

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