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Charles Mills (The Graduate Center, CUNY): “Doing Injustice to Racial Justice: How Rawls Went Wrong”
10 March, 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
This event will take place online via Zoom.
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Abstract: The 50th anniversary of John Rawls’s classic 1971 A Theory of Justice constitutes an ideal occasion to look back from different theoretical perspectives at the history and trajectory of his work, and also its possible future development in the hands of others. The aftermath of the 2020 summer of U.S. and global protests about racial injustice stimulated by George Floyd’s May 2020 killing by the Minneapolis police makes race a particularly pressing perspective from which to conduct such re-examination. Over the years, a very small minority of philosophers, myself included, have raised critical questions about Rawls and race, and what would be required to turn his apparatus to deal properly with racial questions. However, as a result of a recent theoretical epiphany, I now believe that critics (myself included) have all along missed a more foundational and potentially devastating objection: that Rawls’s theory was never intended by him to apply to racist societies in the first place. If I am correct, it means that half a century of American (and broader Western) Rawlsianism has basically been misguided, resting on a false assumption about the presumed scope of his theory.
Charles Mills is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Centre.