Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 5-11-2018


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Daniel Selcer

Committee Member

Fred Evans

Committee Member

Ronald Polansky

Committee Member

Peg Birmingham


Rawls, Hobbes, Foucault, social contract, ideal/non-ideal theory, historicism, materialism


My dissertation develops a critique of Rawlsian social contract theory by arguing that the normative component of democratic practices must be grounded in nonpolitical reasons. With John Rawls’s rights-based approach, social contract theory has strongly resurfaced by focusing on consent as the basic condition for the formation of a just state. The emphasis on agreement leads Rawls to exclude historical, religious, or philosophical reasons from justifying the ideal conception of justice. Consequently, Rawls completely separates politics from any nonpolitical grounding. I argue, however that Rawls’s project cannot account for its normative commitments unless it makes use of a nonpolitical ground. By invoking Foucault’s historicism and Hobbes’s materialism, I maintain that one way to justify political practices follows from conceiving the activity of political power in material terms. This materialism, moreover, makes room for recognizing multiple forms of power relations that have developed historically. I contend, therefore, that a historical material analysis offers a better understanding of how political power functions, and thus allows us to conduct critique effectively. However, justifying normative claims cannot follow from such a descriptive view and must appeal to cultivating virtue in individuals. I argue that recognizing the pervasive operation of power relations should lead us to cultivate a skeptical attitude with regards to our own views. This skepticism, moreover, serves the purpose of reducing antagonism between different views in favor of a more engaged politics that jettisons the divide between public and private reason.