Public Reason: Vol. 8, No. 1-2, 2016
Is Rawls Really a Kantian Contractarian?
Baldwin Wong

In most of the introductions to Rawls and contemporary contractarianism, Rawls is seen as the representative of Kantian contractarianism. He is understood as inheriting a contractarian tradition that can be traced back to Kant and which has inspired followers such as Barry and Scanlon. This paper argues that the label does not fit Rawls. While a Kantian contractarian would presuppose a monistic conception of practical reason, Rawls is a hybrid contractarian who presupposes a dual conception. I shall first argue that the way in which a contractarian model is labeled is determined by its conception of practical reason. Then I show that Rawls and Kantian contractarians assume different conceptions of practical reason, and therefore should be seen as belonging to two strands of thought. I further argue that, although Rawls acknowledges his intellectual affiliation with Kant, he cannot be considered a Kantian contractarian in the commonly understood way. In his Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, Rawls interprets Kant as endorsing a hybrid contractarian model that is similar to his. By understanding Rawls as a hybrid contractarian and not confusing his philosophical project with that of Kantian contractarians, Rawls’s contribution to the history of contractarianism can be better evaluated. 

Key words: Rawls, Kant, Sidgwick, Kantian contractarianism, Scanlon, practical reason.


Wong, Baldwin. Is Rawls Really a Kantian Contractarian?. Public Reason 8 (1-2): 31-49.