The Idea of a Pluralist Politics: Pluralism and Consensus in John Rawls's Political Liberalism

Doctoral Dissertation


This work offers a close examination and critique of the notions of pluralism and consensus as these concepts are developed in the work of John Rawls. Focusing in particular on Rawls’s Political Liberalism and later writings, the dissertation argues that although Rawls does seek to take account of the diversity of beliefs and worldviews present in society, his model assumes a particular perspective on this diversity, stemming from larger and more controversial assumptions concerning the purposes and meaning of public discourse and political life. This assumption is made clear by reviewing Rawls’s theory particularly with regard to the relationship between comprehensive views and political conceptions of justice, Rawls’s arguments concerning human reason, and Rawls’s views concerning public political culture. The implication drawn is that this is only one way we might consider these matters and that by posing the problem differently, we may be able to consider other, more constructive, approaches.

 <P>The second stage of the dissertation develops an alternative approach that offers a creative response to the fact of pluralism, one less concerned with the strong consensus that Rawls seeks, rather placing a strong emphasis upon the importance of plurality in public life.  What particularly distinguishes this approach is its concern to respect the ability of distinct voices to speak in politics using whatever language they find appropriate, enabling them to make contributions to political discussions while remaining faithful to their own communities, traditions, and religious beliefs.  It views the strategy of attempting to locate a moral basis for political cooperation rooted in what citizens have in common--what they might be found to possess in spite of their pluralism--as a failed approach, and one that needs to be abandoned.  Rather, if we can recognize that a political order is held together by things other than an ideological or doctrinal consensus concerning the moral nature of that order, the way becomes clear to consider the possibility of a politics of genuine pluralism, one in which civility is promoted even as particularity is preserved.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-04132005-184623

Author Paul A. Brink
Advisor Edward A. Goerner
Contributor Paul J. Weithman, Committee Member
Contributor John Roos, Committee Member
Contributor Michael Zuckert, Committee Member
Contributor Edward A. Goerner, Committee Chair
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Political Science
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2005-02-24

Submission Date 2005-04-13
  • United States of America

  • political discourse

  • religion and politics

  • pluralism

  • constitutional consensus

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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