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Obama and Philosophy

Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Pharyngula has been rightly concerned with Barack Obama's expressions of religious devotion, but he recently linked to a speech Obama gave in 2006 that put his mind somewhat at ease. It was a good speech, and certainly underscored for me that Obama was a constitutional law professor and a thoughtful person. My other thought was "Holy crap, Barack Obama is a Rawlsian! Yippee!"

For those of you not familiar with John Rawls: Rawls was probably the eminent political philosopher of the 20th century (he just died a couple of years ago). Rawls' theory is pretty sophisticated (and a lot of smart people screw it up), but the key idea I'd like to highlight is Rawls' concept of Political Liberalism. Rawls states that in a democracy, people can have religious motivations for their political arguments, but they can't invoke explicitly religious justifications. To do so would at best lead to a stalemate (non-believers would respond with "who cares?") while at worst could result in the imposition of a particular religious doctrine. That's the very simple version.

In his speech Obama enunciates this very idea. He states that if people want to use their religious morality in the public forum, they need to express it in universal terms that everyone can have access to. This is pure Rawls, and particularly revealing of Obama's intellectual outlook. And as a Rawls scholar, it also makes me very very happy.

All right, I'm finished with my 7AM academic geek-out. Time to get ready to go to work.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:50 AM
2 Comments:
  • This makes perfect sense, given how he approaches policy issues. It is very encouraging!

    By Blogger Maggie, at 8:54 AM  
  • Yeah, I need to give this some more thought, but I think there are some indications that Rawls has exerted a powerful influence on Obama's thinking. Now of course he can't say so, but a careful examination of Obama's approach might bear it out. I'll work on it in my "spare time" i.e. when I'm procrastinating.

    By Blogger Arbitrista, at 9:13 AM  
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