Although Rawls mentioned the method of avoidance only in a few places, the idea is important to understanding his hopes for political liberalism and to avoiding confusions about his stances on metaphysical issues. An outgrowth of his presidential address to the American Philosophical Association, “The Independence of Moral Theory” (1975), this “method” counsels avoiding philosophically controversial topics insofar as this is possible.
In “Justice as Fairness: Political Not Metaphysical” (1986; CP 395), Rawls wrote that he was seeking to generalize the kind of stance he had earlier taken (in his 1980 Dewey Lectures) about the idea of objectivity, aiming to inesse issues about moral truth by characterizing objectivity “by reference to a suitably constructed social point of view” (CP 356). In a similar effort to side-step metaphysical controversies about “the nature of the self,” he was putting forward a political conception of “citizens as free and equal persons” (CP 395). In both of these cases, as Rawls commented, “the hope is that, by this method of avoidance, as we might call it,” wemay ind a basis for reasonable public agreement on fundamental matters of justice (CP 395).
Does not avoiding deep issues about moral truth and the nature of persons entail embracing an objectionable skepticism? In his 1987 essay, “The Idea of an Overlapping Consensus,” Rawls invoked the method of avoidance to explain why it does not: “In following the method of avoidance, as we may call it, we try, so far as we can, neither to assert nor to deny any religious, philosophical, or moral views, or their associated philosophical accounts of truth and the status of values” (CP 434).
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