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Working With Rawls

In Chapter 6, Asha Bhandary highlights the value of Rawls’s earliest formulations of justice as fairness as applying to a “system of practices” for its ability to circumvent the public/private division that has located care within a private family. She argues that because caregiving arrangements have been invisible in the social forms where liberalism is endemic, the system of practices tends to be unjust. Therefore, liberals seeking to develop societies with just caregiving arrangements should learn from societies where care is explicitly valued. To that end, Bhandary engages the work of indigenous feminist Kim Anderson, whose account of native practices includes systems of caregiving in which providing care is entwined with other goods, such as education. The value of reciprocity structures Anderson’s account of these practices. Contrasting Anderson’s account of reciprocity with Rawlsian reciprocity, exchange reciprocity, and Kittay’s concept of doulia, Bhandary defends the virtue of “interpersonal reciprocity,” which is a disposition to reciprocate the care one has received. Because human relations structured around care tend to bend toward inequality, the virtue of interpersonal reciprocity mitigates tendencies toward entitlement and privilege that mark societies structured by group- based hierarchies, and, most saliently, by race and gender. It is what she calls an ameliorative virtue. Although the recommendation for interpersonal reciprocity is best described as nonideal theory - in part because interpersonal reciprocity is intended as an ameliorative virtue - it augments Bhandary’s nonideological ideal theory,8 which is a neo-Rawlsian two-level contract theory, consisting in the hypothetical acceptability of the system of practices when they include the facts of dependency care, and tethers hypothetical acceptability to the real world by requiring autonomy skills for real people, because they indirectly shape the social context in which the theorist works (Bhandary 2020).

In Chapter 7, Cynthia Stark demonstrates that Rawls’s theory of justice provides conceptual resources for critiquing the current social organization of caregiving work, and thus that a Rawlsian well-ordered society would not include a gendered division of labor. Stark shows that the gendered division of labor, which in our society is entrenched in the design of institutions and basic practices, rewards individuals for conduct consistent with “sex-specific virtues.” She then offers a novel interpretation of Rawls’s writings about desert in A Theory of Justice, according to which society’s basic social and institutional arrangements may not reward moral virtue. Since the gendered division of labor in our society rewards individuals for conduct consistent with a particular, gendered, account of virtue, it is unjust. As a remedy, Stark calls for the elimination of incentives for conformity with sex-specific caregiving roles. Stark then turns to property-owning democracy, which Rawls endorses as an institutional framework to realize his principles of justice, and shows that the wide dispersal of “physical and human capital” required by property-owning democracy rules out an institutionalized gendered division of labor.

In Chapter 8, Amy R. Baehr adapts Rawlsian constructivism. She provides a constructivist justification for a conception of justice that includes justice in caregiving and is alive to the fact of past injustice. Baehr develops an initial choice situation out of political conceptions of society and the person that give dependency pride of place and are implicit in our public political culture. She shows that parties to such an initial situation would choose a conception of justice that includes the requirement that individuals (fully cooperating and not) receive the caregiving they need to survive and thrive, while those with dependents needing caregiving are able to provide or procure it (and are able to do so voluntarily and without being disadvantaged), under conditions of equal recognition of the caregiving needs of each. She then argues that such a conception could become the subject of an overlapping consensus and gain the reasoned allegiance of those who grow up under it. Baehr’s aim is to propose a conception of justice which includes justice in caregiving and is alive to the fact of past injustice not as what Rawls calls a “comprehensive doctrine” (Rawls 1993, 13). That is, the conception is not presented as true but rather as reasonable; and it is presented as a conception for the political and not for direct application to the internal workings of the many parts of associational life. It is presented as what Rawls calls a “freestanding” view (10) so that it may serve as a shared normative basis on which citizens may justify to one another their basic institutions and social arrangements. In this sense, Baehr’s chapter is an exercise in political liberalism.

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