Julius Sensat
Department of Philosophy
End-of-Year Fellowship Report for 2005-06

Project title: Autonomy and Estrangement in Rawls's Political Philosophy

I am writing a monograph on the importance for a proper assessment of John Rawls's political philosophy of several ideas from classical German philosophy, especially in the work of Kant and Hegel, and in work by Marx that critically addresses their formulations. The central idea is that of autonomy, both in the sense of a capacity for self-legislation associated with the moral standpoint and in the broader sense of the freedom of human reason more generally. Other ideas address the abstractness of the moral standpoint, the social prerequisites of autonomy, the social variability of available forms of motivation, and the vulnerability of social worlds to estrangement and ideological distortion. Rawls's work shows signs of reflective engagement with all these ideas except that of estrangement. However, my research has yielded an account of estrangement (understood as an agency-induced social blockage of autonomy) that relates all these ideas to each other in a way that deepens our understanding of their significance. In addition, the account explains how apparently very diverse forms of estrangement (e.g., religious, economic, and political estrangement) can function as complementary, mutually dependent aspects of a single social process. These results bear significantly on the merits and feasibility of candidate conceptions of justice. Exposure to the other fellows' various approaches to autonomy helped me to work up these ideas into a chapter-length draft. In addition, I was able to draw out the account's significance at several points of contact with Rawls's ideas. In particular, I identified the main elements of a chapter on Rawls's envisioned institutional implementation of his conception of justice. I also made significant progress relating estrangement to the content of his principles of justice, to the justification he offers for them, and to his more general conception of liberalism. Finally, I revised an earlier written draft of the introduction.

In addition to a presentation to the center fellows' seminar on April 13, 2006, I presented several of these ideas to a workshop in continental philosophy in the UWM Philosophy department on March 30, 2006. I plan to post a working paper on the Center's web site in the near future.

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