Cooperative Capacities of the Rational: Revising Rawls’s Account of Prudential Reasoning

Cooperative Capacities of the Rational: Revising Rawls’s Account of Prudential Reasoning

By Jacqueline Basu, Stanford University

John Rawls characterizes political rationality as narrowly self-regarding and therefore incapable of motivating political other-regard, self-moderation, or cooperative behavior. He ascribes these cooperative properties solely to reasonable, or principled, reasoning. This article evaluates Rawls’s account of rationality by investigating his characterization of the democratic modus vivendi, which builds upon this account: Rawls asserts that the democratic modus vivendi is inherently unstable because it lacks the cooperative properties of the reasonable. These critiques entail positive claims about rational democratic equilibrium that are contradicted by formal accounts of self-enforcing democracy. The article demonstrates that the democratic modus vivendi can achieve robust stability because the rational can express the cooperative properties that Rawls reserves to the reasonable. By working within Rawls’s seminal account of political reasoning to revise the properties he ascribes to rationality, this article offers a novel motivation for theoretical engagement with the rational and its role in political cooperation.

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