Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Philosophy

Committee Chair

Albert Borgmann

Commitee Members

Bridget Clarke, Ramona Grey


culture, Political Liberalism, public reason, social identity, John Rawls, the political conception of the person


University of Montana


According to Kwame Appiah, “the great liberal struggle” since the Enlightenment has concerned whether the state should treat citizens as self-directed individuals or acknowledge them in terms of social identities—ethnicity, culture, religion, or gender. Some thinkers, Appiah among them, have proposed solutions to this struggle and advocate for amending liberalism to include space for the recognition of difference. These “solutions” share at least one thing in common: critiques of John Rawls. However, Rawls seems to have a palatable answer to “the great liberal struggle,” though it seems he would frame it differently. Indeed, he acknowledges “the fact of pluralism,” as a permanent condition of our experience. In Part One I respond to three criticisms of Rawls’ ability to help with struggles over identity. I first explore Rawls’ understanding of a person in reference to Appiah’s discussion of the role of the state in “soul making,” inspired by J.S. Mill. Second, I consider Rawls’ understanding of “human nature” by responding to Will Kymlicka in considering among other things what Rawls’ “primary goods” might involve for cultural life. Finally, I will examine Rawls’ distinction between public political culture and the background culture in terms of the idea of public reason in response to Seyla Benhabib’s criticism that the distinction fails to elucidate guidelines in the face of many modern gender and familial issues. In Part Two, I offer two ways in which Rawls’ theory could be amended or extended in order to more adequately account for identity. First, Rawls’ theory could be amended to consider the role of comprehensive doctrines in the overlapping consensus. Second, Rawls’ theory could invite identity considerations into the political conception of primary goods.



© Copyright 2009 Blake Benjamin Francis