Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

From a Hegelian to a Smithian reading of Rawls

Igersheim Herrade, CNRS
Ege Ragip, University of Strasbourg

The purpose of this paper is to attempt to identify the kind of process which gives rise to public reason through the analysis of the works of four great authors: Smith, Kant, Hegel and John Rawls. Kant and Rawls have put into light the concept of public reason. But we claim that the analyses of Hegel and particularily Smith, allow us a better understanding of this concept. First we refer to the Hegelian opposition between State and Civil society. Second we refer to the twofold aspect of the Smithian impartial spectator and show that the interactions put forth by Smith between the “man within the breast” and the “real spectator” are indeed able to explain how and why public reason can emerge. We finally claim that our developments give birth to a new pair of concepts one can coin “reason within”/“reason without”, which allows clarifying the emergence of public reason. The first occurrence of “public reason” is to be found in the famous article of Kant, "What is Enlightenment" (1784). The philosopher says that two different uses of reason can be considered: when a person makes use of his reason as an employee or as a worker in an institution or in a firm, we are dealing with a private use, but “as a scholar (Gelehrter) addressing the real public (i.e. the world at large) through his writings” he makes “public use of his reason” (Kant 1784: 57). Rawls says that Kant’s afore-mentioned text was a source of inspiration for him in his analyses on the formation of the concept of public reason. On the one hand, public reason is a logic which transcends particular or private rationalities. On the other hand, public reason is the means, the cognitive instrument of which individuals make use in order to define the fundamental liberties and rights citizens are supposed to share in a democratic society. At the same time public reason is a result and an instrument. This apparent paradox constitutes all the complexity of the question of public reason and blurs the conditions of its emergence. We claim that both Hegelian opposition and Smithian impartial spectator are able to clarify some of these issues.


Keywords: Smith, Hegel, Kant, Rawls, public reason