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The coherence and defensibility of Rawls’ law of peoples

Maffettone, Pietro (2013) The coherence and defensibility of Rawls’ law of peoples. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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In the last three decades, liberal political philosophy has been increasingly concerned with the nature and extent of the moral responsibilities of members of different political communities to each other. John Rawls contributed to this debate in his final book, The Law of Peoples (LOP). There, Rawls refused to extend his account of domestic distributive justice to international politics and argued that some non-liberal (yet decent) peoples can be members in good standing of the international community. Many of Rawls’ critics maintain that this evidences a double standard, and accuse LOP of being an incoherent extension of Rawls’ political philosophy to global politics. In this thesis I show that the opposite is true. I start by underlining the main discontinuities between Rawls’ accounts of domestic and international justice. I then show that these discontinuities can be explained by tracing the evolution of the idea of public justification in Rawls’ work. Rawls’ two theories of justice are the application of the same idea – public justification – in different political contexts. While the first three chapters are dedicated to the elaboration of this distinctive interpretation of LOP, the final two chapters address Rawls’ accounts of international economic assistance and international toleration. The thesis surveys a number of critical arguments against Rawls’ elaboration of his duty of assistance and his understanding of toleration based on reasonableness. It finds them all wanting, and strikingly off the mark: all seem premised on the idea that a just world is a substantively liberal-egalitarian one. Thus, Rawls’ critics fail both to properly attend to our limited abilities to change the global political landscape (not to mention the risks associated with such attempts) and to understand the implications of any sustainable account of toleration.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Pietro Maffetone
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JC Political theory
K Law > K Law (General)
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Held, David and Kelly, Paul

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