The Aims of Political Philosophy in John Rawls, Bernard Williams, and Richard Rorty

36 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2008 Last revised: 27 Aug 2008

Date Written: February, 1 2008


What ought a political philosophy seek to achieve? How should political philosophy address itself to its subject matter? What is the relation between political philosophy and other forms of reflective inquiry? In answering these metaphilosophical questions, political philosophy has long been dominated by a roughly utopian self-image. According to this conception, the aim of political philosophy is the rigorous development of theoretical ideals of justice, state, and law. I show that leading political philosophers of the twentieth century, most notably John Rawls, have continued to perpetuate this utopian conception of the aims of political philosophy. I then explicate an emerging alternative metaphilosophical view of political philosophy which has recently emerged in two seemingly disparate strands of political philosophy: the first strand being Bernard Williams's realist conception of political critique and the second strand being Richard Rorty's pragmatist conception of cultural criticism. The views developed by Williams and Rorty leave to the side questions about political ideals and focuses instead on definite ways in which we can improve the situations in which we find ourselves. Such improvement, Williams and Rorty provocatively argue, does not require an ideal theory of best justice.

Keywords: Political Philosophy, Rawls, Williams, Rorty, Metaphilosophy, Utopianism, Meliorism, Political Realism

Suggested Citation

Koopman, Colin, The Aims of Political Philosophy in John Rawls, Bernard Williams, and Richard Rorty (February, 1 2008). Available at SSRN: or

Colin Koopman (Contact Author)

University of Oregon ( email )

1280 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

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