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Law & Ethics of Human Rights

Editor-in-Chief: Stopler, Gila

Editorial Board Member: Benvenisti, Eyal / Cohen-Eliya, Moshe / Macedo, Stephen / Rosenblum, Nancy

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Grounding Public Reasons in Rationality: The Conditionally-Compassionate Medical Student and Other Challenges

Eyal Nir
  • Harvard University and Harvard Medical School
  • :
Published Online: 2012-12-06 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/1938-2545.1067


Gillian Hadfield and Stephen Macedo argue that late-Rawlsian stability for the right reasons, that is, stability based on participants’ reciprocal cooperation, can arise even if participants start out only economically rational and indifferent to justice. As they explain, even purely rational actors have an interest in having a neutral “shared logic” to coordinate decentralized enforcement of social cooperation and in internalizing that logic. Once developed and internalized, they add, that logic renders their reasoning public, and their persons, reasonable and responsive to Rawlsian justice considerations. Hadfield and Macedo’s account seeks to lend Rawlsian contractualism a contractarian foundation. I raise five challenges to their account, focusing on the sense in which actors “start out” purely rational; on illiberal means that may serve rational citizens’ joint ends; on the counterexample of Martin Luther King; on the difficulty of specifying the mechanism for shared logic-internalization; and on the further counterexample of a medical student who internalizes compassion, only upon the condition that it serves his rational aims.

KEYWORDS: reciprocity; Macedo; Hadfield; Rawls; public reason; comment; rational citizens

Published Online: 2012-12-06

Citation Information: The Law & Ethics of Human Rights. Volume 6, Issue 1, Pages 47–68, ISSN (Online) 1938-2545, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/1938-2545.1067, December 2012

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