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The Separateness of Persons and Its Implications for Political Liberalism

Wednesday, 21 March, 2012 - 14:30
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
Faculty: Social Sciences and Solvay Business School
Margareta Hanes
phd defence

John Rawls’s political theory mainly addresses a question that has direct implications for all of
us, namely the question of how a stable and just society can exist when there are major
disagreements among individuals with regard to their commitments to values and conceptions of
the good. Rawls answers this question by asserting that, in the context of value system
pluralism, individuals would reach an “overlapping consensus” in their political arrangement.
The individual would be asked to bracket her particular moral convictions with regards
outcomes, but she would be free to include them in her arguments aimed at leading to a system
of fair social cooperation. Although Rawls wants to ensure that personal autonomy and the
system of a modern society are capable of residing under a framework of mutual
interconnectedness, it is not clear that Rawls’s considerations about fair social cooperation lend
support to a conception of personal autonomy because he seems to merely acknowledge and
recognize the individual’s autonomy without implementing it in the sense of encouraging
persons to express their autonomy. This dissertation highlights the view that Rawls’s thesis depersonalizes
the individual herself. My aim is to examine the roots of personal autonomy in
order to argue that personal autonomy implies an account of the separateness of persons that
goes further than the distinctiveness of persons, the rather descriptive conception that Rawls’s
views on a stable and just society is based upon.

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