Issue 56, October 2018
On Rawls’s Arguments of Stability
John Rawls systematically explored and tried to solve the problem of stability; that is, given the fact of reasonable pluralism, how can citizens be motivated so that they will accept and comply with social institutions voluntarily to maintain a just and well-ordered society? In Political Liberalism, Rawls proposed the argument of overlapping consensus. He argued that citizens who affirm different reasonable comprehensive doctrines would agree to “justice as fairness” and use this political conception of justice to regulate major social institutions. Based on this consensus, citizens will voluntarily comply with relevant norms and ensure social stability.
This essay shall explore whether the argument of overlapping consensus can successfully solve the problem of stability in a pluralistic society. First, I shall explain the problem of stability with which Rawls was concerned. Second, I shall explain why Rawls gave up the argument for stability in A Theory of Justice and why he proposed the argument of overlapping consensus. Third, I shall analyze how Rawls argued that such a consensus can solve the problem of stability. Fourth, I shall examine and criticize the argument of overlapping consensus. By exploring how this argument fails, I shall point out how any argument appealing to principles of social justice fails to solve the stability problem successfully. Finally, I shall propose a preliminary form of the argument for stability based on moral psychology. This argument is not only compatible with Rawls’s claims but is also theoretically defensible.