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Tongue-Tied: Rawls, Political Philosophy and Metalinguistic Awareness


Is our moral cognition “colored” by the language(s) that we speak? Despite the centrality of language to political life and agency, limited attempts have been made thus far in contemporary political philosophy to consider this possibility. We therefore set out to explore the possible influence of linguistic relativity effects on political thinking in linguistically diverse societies. We begin by introducing the facts and fallacies of the “linguistic relativity” principle, and explore the various ways in which they “color,” often covertly, current normative debates. To illustrate this, we focus on two key Rawlsian concepts: the original position and public reason. We then move to consider the resulting epistemic challenges and opportunities facing contemporary multilingual democratic societies in an age of increased mobility, arguing for the consequent imperative of developing political metalinguistic awareness and political extelligence among political scientists, political philosophers, and political actors alike in an irreducibly complex linguistic world.

Corresponding author
Yael Peled is Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Language and Health, Institute for Health and Social Policy, McGill University, Charles Meredith House, 1130 Pine Avenue West, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1A3, Canada; Faculty of Law, McGill University, Chancellor Day Hall, 3644 Peel Street, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1W9, Canada (
Matteo Bonotti is Lecturer in Political Theory, Politics and International Relations, School of Law and Politics, Cardiff University, Law Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff CF10 3AX, Wales UK (
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
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