Foucault and Rawls: Government and Public Reason

Paul Patton

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Foucault and Rawls represent very different approaches to political philosophy. Whereas the former pursues a resolutely descriptive approach to the techniques, strategies, and forms of rationality of power, the latter is explicitly normative in setting out and arguing for principles of justice that should inform the government of society conceived as a fair system of co-operation. I propose to show that the distance between them is less extreme than might be supposed and that differences between them are instructive. They converge on the analysis of particular conceptions of the proper business of government and the institutions and policies it should embrace. While Rawls is explicitly concerned with ideal theory rather than actual societies, he recognizes that a theory of justice will have implications for the way that society should be governed and that these should be spelled out and examined in order to test the theory. By contrast, Foucault is explicitly concerned with actual historical conceptions of government rather than normative considerations about the most reasonable form of government.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Government of Life
Subtitle of host publicationFoucault, Biopolitics, and Neoliberalism
EditorsVanessa Lemm, Miguel Vatter
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherFordham University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9780823255993
ISBN (Print)0823255999, 9780823255993
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Publication series

NameForms of Living


  • Foucalt
  • Rawls
  • Government
  • Public reason
  • Biopolitics
  • Neoliberalism


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