There are both a paper assignment and a test to be taken on Rawls.
You have two options for the paper assignment, each of which involves writing a paper of about six pages (of double-spaced, 12-point type).
The first option is to develop the most effective objection to Rawls’s theory that you can. In order to formulate an objection to develop, you may wish to begin by considering that Rawls has two broad strategies of justification. One goes like this:
The other justificatory strategy goes like this:
Since statements 3 and 6 are the conclusions of their respective arguments, you can proceed by trying to undermine any of the premises giving rise to them: statements 1, 2, 4, and 5. As you know from your reading, statements 1 and 2 are argued for throughout chapters II and III, and statement 4 is argued for in Part Two. Rawls’s defense of statement 5 is less conspicuous, but some hints of how he would attempt to justify it are found in § 4, § 9, and § 87.
There are, then, many angles from which you can launch an objection against Rawls’s view. To undermine statement 1, you could argue that the veil of ignorance is too thick or too thin (or both, in various ways), or that what the parties in the original position are characterized as aiming at is misconceived, or that the risk-aversion attributed to them is arbitrary, or that the very idea of a contract is inapt here, or any of many other things. To undermine statement 2, you could argue that some other conception of justice than Rawls’s would be chosen there (and clearly the possibilities here are as limitless as are the alternatives to Rawls’s conception of justice). To undermine statement 4, you could argue that the implications of Rawls’s theory are unacceptable in regard to any number of things: the protection of liberties, equality of opportunity, justice between generations, the distribution of wealth and income, civil disobedience, and conscientious objection, to name just a few.
Note that this assignment does not call for a comprehensive investigation of any of statements 1, 2, 4, and 5 (much less of Rawls’s theory as a whole). Rather, it calls for a criticism of some very specific aspect of Rawls’s theory. The statements above are provided in order to help you to see some of the general angles from which you can develop an objection to Rawls’s theory, not in order to suggest the scale or level of generality at which your objection should proceed. (It is just as if I were to ask you to design a two-week vacation, and I mentioned that some possible destinations can be found in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. That wouldn’t mean that I would expect the resulting vacation to cover any of those continents thoroughly or evenly. Some choices, about what to attend to and what to ignore, will still have to be made.)
The second option for the paper concerns R. M. Hare’s 1973 critique of Rawls. Specifically, this option involves (1) selecting one of the four areas into which Hare divides his critique of Rawls, (2) briefly explaining the nature of Hare’s objection(s) in that area, and (3) providing the most effective rejoinder to Hare, on behalf of Rawls, that you can. So whereas the first option asks you to attack Rawls, this option asks you to defend him.
Regardless of which of the two options you choose, there are two due dates for this paper:
In writing your paper you are welcome to use resources beyond those used in class, but you do not need to do so. For additional suggestions about writing philosophy papers generally, see my “Guidelines for Writing a Philosophy Paper.”
The test will be given in class on Friday, March 7, and will consist of 100 points’ worth of the following questions. There may also be a bonus question or two, not listed here.