Once again I encounter the utterly mystifying fact that not everyone in the world has read every word I have written. How can this be? Once I have written something AND PUBLISHED IT, surely everyone will have read it within a few weeks or months, no? Sigh, well, no. So I must repeat myself, even though I feel that I am cheating when I say on this blog something I have long since committed to print.
First of all, although I knew Jack personally, I never spoke to him about this, and after I sent him the first copy of my book about his work, he never thereafter made the slightest comment to me or to anyone else about it of which I am aware [he did acknowledge receipt of the book], so my judgments about what he was doing are based solely on my logical analysis of his argument, not on anything he said.
I have always believed that Jack secretly dreamed of proving a theorem in political philosophy as powerful and as rigorous as Kenneth Arrow's famous General Possibility Theorem, which was the subject of Arrow's doctoral dissertation and for which he eventually received the Nobel Prize in Economics. Had Rawls' proof held up, it would indeed have been that momentous.
Now, the thing about theorems, real theorems, is that they are not culturally or historically or ethnically or religiously relative. That is why the discipline of mathematics knows no boundaries, whereas the discipline of philosophy is very much culturally embedded [French philosophy is nothing like Anglophone philosophy. If you tried telling French philosophers that David Lewis and Derek Parfitt were two of the most important recent philosophers, they would look at you as though you were crazy.]
Rawls tells us that the individuals in the Original Position [I have trouble not sniggering at that phrase -- it has nothing to do with the Kama Sutra, trust me] do not know where in history they are located. That is part of his explanation for their adoption of an extremely conservative decision rule -- a version of what Von Neumann, in Game Theory , calls the Minimax Decision Rule. However, they do know, Rawls says, the general truths about society and human psychology.
In my book [here I go again] I argue that it is in fact epistemologically impossible for the individuals in the Original Position to have the special combination of knowledge and ignorance required by Rawls' theory. Very briefly, I argue that they could not know, for example, that capitalism presents its exploitation of the working class in the mystified guise of equality and justice, and yet not know that they are located at least in the middle or late nineteenth century in Europe, if not later.
It is my opinion that very early on, Rawls realized that he could not prove his theorem, but he was totally wedded to the truth of its conclusion, so in place of the elusive rigorous argument he substituted 500 pages of elaboration and a self-justifying story about Reflective Equilibrium, all of which would have been quite unnecessary had he actually managed to prove the theorem.
But, you will say, A Theory of Justice is such a rich treasure trove of interesting sketches and elaborations and comments and speculations and imaginary social descriptions, and you are reducing it all to a barebones formal argument! You don't treat Capital that way, do you? You don't treat the Critique of Pure Reason that way, do you?
Actually, I do. I wrote a whole book about the central argument in the Critique, and a whole book about the logical structure of the central economic theory in Capital. But, speaking now personally, I find the Critique and Capital inspiring and illuminating, and I do not find A Theory of Justice either. But that is just me. de gustibus