Political Constructivism and the ‘Argument for Agnosticism’ of a Political Conception of Justice
The availability of public justification for liberal principles of justice in the context of a society marked by a pluralism of ethical beliefs has become a vital concern for contemporary liberalisms. In this paper I try to challenge Rawls’s approach to the public justification of principles of justice by analysing his political constructivism. Rawls states that a political justification in the context of reasonable disagreement should remain agnostic; he, furthermore, claims that political constructivism can yield a conception of justice that remains agnostic on the question of truth of its principles. I focus on the question whether political liberalism is able to occupy this metaphysically neutral position by simply substituting reasonableness for truth as a criterion for correctness in matters of political justice. To do so I run a comparison between constructivism and realism and I use the distinction between cognitivism and non-cognitivism in order to draw out some of the similarities between the former. As cognitivist views both realism and constructivism have a commitment to affirming: 1) the truth of their principles 2) the objectivity of those principles. I argue that political constructivism cannot choose to retain its commitment to 2), whilst giving up on its commitment to 1). In substituting reasonableness for truth political constructivism remains agnostic only nominally: its account of what constitutes reasonableness (in either an idealised or an actual agent) will have to bring in the question of truth in one way or the other. I conclude by claiming that political constructivism as an approach is committed to the truth of at least some of its claims, which means that Rawls’s strategy of agnosticism ultimately cannot hold.