Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Postmodern political values: pluralism and legitimacy in the thought of John Rawls and Gianni Vattimo

Lookup NU author(s): Professor David RoseORCiD



There exists the putative assumption that since those values which legitimate social practices and institutions (liberty, equality, et al) are liberal values, then the most coherent form of justification for their universal applicability must – and can only – be a liberal one. The aim of this article is to unravel the foundations of this assumption and, in doing so, to demonstrate that the transition from comprehensive to political liberalism is an expression of postmodern concerns at the heart of liberalism. The central claim I wish to make is two-fold: first, John Rawls’s concentration on the problem of legitimacy over and above justice leads to an acceptance of the social thesis, albeit in a minimal form. Two, as a consequence of this, the Kantian form of practical reason which informs his work has to be modified to avoid problems with motivation. In the succeeding section, I reverse the direction of argument and concentrate on an explicitly hermeneutical liberalism, that of Gianni Vattimo, which avowedly embraces the substantive implications of the social thesis and yet attempts to demonstrate that the aims of interpretation and understating entail a commitment to liberal political values. Although the social thesis can offer a plausible account of political motivation congruent with the demands of legitimacy, it must also be committed to a minimal formal account of practical reason much to the chagrin of the critics of postmodern ethics who accuse all contextual thought of exhibiting strong irrational tendencies. The intention of the conclusion is to show that whether one begins from the liberal commitment to formal values, or the postmodern contextual commitment to substantive, situated values, one must be committed to a political form of autonomy which is both non-comprehensive yet necessarily situated. Moreover, the recognition of these concerns necessitates a simultaneous avowal of postmodern themes in order for political liberalism to be fully coherent and persuasive as a political doctrine, as well as an explicit recognition of the formal claims of reason by any postmodern thought.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Rose D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Contemporary Political Theory

Year: 2008

Volume: 7

Issue: 4

Pages: 416-433

Date deposited: 30/11/2011

ISSN (print): 1470-8914

ISSN (electronic): 1476-9336

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Ltd


DOI: 10.1057/cpt.2008.16


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric