The Limits of Constructivism: Can Rawls Condemn Female Genital Mutilation?

25 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2009 Last revised: 10 May 2011

Date Written: May 15, 2009


The strategy for coping with value pluralism that Rawls has proposed is to permit political decisions, at least with respect to basic rights, to depend only on those goods that can be inferred from the bare requirements of respectful relations between persons. His account offers such a parsimonious conception of the good that it cannot cognize some atrocities. I focus on one extreme human rights case: the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), which, it is well established, violates basic human rights. Doubtless Rawls was appalled by the practice. Yet his theory cannot generate a basis for condemning it. A satisfactory conception of human rights must draw upon some normative source beyond that offered by constructivism.

Keywords: Constructivism, Rawls, Female, Genital, Mutilation

JEL Classification: K19, K39

Suggested Citation

Koppelman, Andrew M., The Limits of Constructivism: Can Rawls Condemn Female Genital Mutilation? (May 15, 2009). Review of Politics, Vol. 71, p. 459, 2009; Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 09–15; Northwestern Law & Econ Research Paper No. 09–32. Available at SSRN:

Andrew M. Koppelman (Contact Author)

Northwestern University School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-8431 (Phone)

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