Rawls and the history of ideas

One of the things I find frustrating about the territory and justice work is its frequent avoidance of any kind of discussion of territory itself, instead taking territory as largely unproblematic and then going into more and more detail about the ways debates in justice apply to it. Given my background in political theory, and the concentration of justice debates in the predominant Anglo-American approach to this, I’m not especially interested in going back through those debates again, even if the thing to which it applies is something I work on. (I’ve discussed some of this in more detail in a review essay in Political Geography which discusses Kolers, among others – a piece I’ve just made freely available.)

John Rawls is, still, a dominant figure in those debates. I’ve read A Theory of Justice and The Law of Peoples, but avoided Political Liberalism and not been inclined to look at his lectures on the history of moral and political philosophy. But this quote maybe means I should change my mind. It is a great antidote to the too-quick dismissal of the tradition:

I always took it for granted that the writers we were studying were much smarter than I was. If they were not, why was I wasting my time and the students‘ time by studying them? If I saw a mistake in their arguments, I suppose those writers saw it too and must have dealt with it. But where? I looked for their way out. (Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, xvi)

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