The person and society Rawls, Maritain, and the concept of personhood in politics

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2015-08

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Stuart, Kevin Ethridge

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Abstract

John Rawls, a titanic figure in political philosophy in the 20th century, thought he could make politics independent of metaphysics, that he could work up a neutral, coherent, and compelling account of justice free of controversial elements of a particular "worldview." I am not the first critic to claim he failed--Theory of Justice is the book that launched a thousand dissertations. Unlike nearly all other critics, however, I will focus on the metaphysical account of personhood, and will offer a critique from a Thomistic standpoint. Personhood is the focus because it's the most fundamental and important part of a political theory: politics is about people and mistakes about what a person is will have great consequences. Political philosophy is, in a manner of speaking, the second-person plural form of one's view of personhood, an unfolding of an account of people living in groups with other people. This dissertation shows that Rawls inevitably incorporates metaphysically laden claims in his argument. But more than a series of "gotchas" it also shows that the attempt to ignore metaphysics is a bad way of proceeding not just because it’s bound to fail, but also because it only succeeds in adopting a metaphysical view that is both confused and mistaken. This is where the Thomistic tradition, a rival of Rawls's liberal tradition, can help. I bring to bear some of the resources from the rich tradition of Thomistic philosophy to highlight two essential features of personhood for political philosophy: the inclination of the intellect towards truth and the primordial importance of love for the will. The centrality of truth and love for the human person illuminate a richer and more adequate starting point for political philosophy.

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