The Limits of an Egalitarian Ethos: G. A. Cohen's Critique of Rawlsian Liberalism

Science and Society 75 (2):236 - 261 (2011)
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Abstract

G.A. Cohen’s critique of the Rawlsian difference principle points out an inconsistency in its presentation. The initial equality decided by the participants in the original position under the veil of ignorance is not preserved by the inequality sanctioned by the difference principle. Cohen shows how the breakdown of the initial equality of the original position prevents the desired results of the Rawlsian system from being realized. Cohen argues that an egalitarian ethos is required within a society for equality preserving economic distributions and Pareto superior outcomes to occur. Nonetheless, Cohen’s analysis of Rawls misses the ultimate cause of inequality, which is the dynamics of capital accumulation. An egalitarian ethos is only possible if there is a socialist mode of production to facilitate its development. Additionally, Cohen’s critique of Rawlsian constructivism through an argument for intuitionism does not address the natural-material existence of human beings. This existence must be considered for any advantageous social formation.

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