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Rawlsian Political Analysis

Rethinking the Microfoundations of Social Science

Paul Clements

Publication Year: 2012

In Rawlsian Political Analysis: Rethinking the Microfoundations of Social Science, Paul Clements develops a new, morally grounded model of political and social analysis as a critique of and improvement on both neoclassical economics and rational choice theory. What if practical reason is based not only on interests and ideas of the good, as these theories have it, but also on principles and sentiments of right? The answer, Clements argues, requires a radical reorientation of social science from the idea of interests to the idea of social justice.

According to Clements, systematic weaknesses in neoclassical economics and rational choice theory are due to their limited model of choice. According to such theories in the utilitarian tradition, all our practical decisions aim to maximize the satisfaction of our interests. These neo-utilitarian approaches focus on how we promote our interests, but Clements argues, our ideas of right, cognitively represented in principles, contribute independently and no less fundamentally to our practical decisions.
The most significant challenge to utilitarianism in the last half century is found in John Rawls’s Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism, in which Rawls builds on Kant's concept of practical reason. Clements extends Rawls's moral theory and his critique of utilitarianism by arguing for social analysis based on the Kantian and Rawlsian model of choice. To illustrate the explanatory power of his model, he presents three detailed case studies: a program analysis of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, a political economy analysis of the causes of poverty in the Indian state of Bihar, and a problem-based analysis of the ethics and politics of climate change. He concludes by exploring the broad implications of social analysis grounded in a concept of social justice.
“Paul Clements’s Rawlsian Political Analysis mounts an important intervention into the philosophy of the social sciences, challenging the tired fact/value, empirical/normative binaries that continue to impoverish social analysis. His insistence that social analysis must engage both facts and norms, the empirical and the normative, the good and the right, interest and principle—and that empirical social scientists must engage constructively on questions of autonomy and social justice—is noble and ultimately essential if social science is to justify its place in the years to come.” —Fonna Forman-Barzilai, University of California, San Diego

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title Page, Copyright

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p. ix-ix

I am particularly grateful to Emily Hauptmann for working with me on earlier stages of this project, for collaborating on the critique of rational choice theory, and for friendship and support throughout. Peter . . .

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Chapter One: Introduction: Why Rawlsian Political Analysis?

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pp. 1-28

Good and bad and right and wrong are our most fundamental moral concepts. We are instructed from early childhood to “be good,” we want what is good for ourselves and for our families and friends, and . . .

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Chapter Two: The Cognition of Principles and the Role of Rawlsian Political Analysis

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pp. 29-66

This chapter aims to secure the place of principles as coequal with interests in the microfoundations of political analysis, and to consider how this recasts the role of political analysis. In order to do these . . .

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Chapter Three: The Analytic Limits of Rational Choice Theory

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pp. 67-94

From a Rawlsian perspective, rational choice theory has two kinds of analytic limits. First, it has limits as a positive theory, because it fails to account for patterns and dynamics associated with the reasonable, . . .

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Chapter Four: Program Analysis of the Grameen Bank

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pp. 95-120

Program analysis aims to support cost-effective allocations of resources by public agencies, such as governments, international development agencies, and nonprofit organizations. From the perspective of an . . .

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Chapter Five: Political Analysis of Problems in Bihar

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pp. 121-147

This chapter presents Rawlsian political analysis by employing it to explain the causes of economic and social problems in the Indian state of Bihar.2 It illustrates the distinctive character of Rawlsian political . . .

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Chapter Six: The Ethics and the Politics of Climate Change

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pp. 149-181

To explain the causes for a region’s poverty, as chapter 5 attempts for Bihar, Rawlsian analysis inevitably turns to political history. To address the ethics of an emerging social problem not contained within . . .

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Chapter Seven: Kantian Ontology of Practical Reason and Social Science

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pp. 183-193

If our social world is constructed substantially from principles, it follows that social analysis cannot be merely empirical. The social world remains part of our natural world, and we cannot conceive of it . . .


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pp. 195-213

Works Cited

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pp. 215-222


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pp. 223-231

About the Author

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p. 232-232

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780268076962
E-ISBN-10: 0268076960
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268023713
Print-ISBN-10: 0268023719

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2012