When pulling poison ivy, partway through
a day in May, the morning middling warm,
I stood to find myself inside a swarm
of honeybees, the ones I'd spoken to
when I'd pass by the sassafras. Although
they buzzed and circled, I felt no alarm
for me, but reverie: for me, in form
the dying sassafras, the bees for you.
I've watched the notch, the twin trunk at fork's cleft
and worried what great split from storm or wind
might rive the hive, leave me forlorn, bereft,
until I saw remaining bees attend.
No sting so fierce as my first fear they'd left,
I'd seen a new-formed swarming queen ascend.
Thomas Nagel (born 1937), Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, is one of Rawls’s most important philosophical interlocutors and the author of a number of influential papers about Rawls’s political philosophy (e.g. Nagel 1975, 2003). His most significant engagement with Rawls’s ideas is in Equality and Partiality (Nagel 1991). In that book, Nagel uses his central distinction between objective and subjective ways of conceiving of the world to address the feasibility of Rawls’s egalitarianism. Liberalism must leave us with enough personal space to realize the “subjective” values of our own lives. There is, however, a complementary objective discipline to ethical and political thought, namely, the impersonal demands of others as mediated via political institutions. Influenced by G. A. Cohen’s claim that Rawls’s egalitarianism focuses on the institutions of the basic structure of society to the exclusion of personal choice, Nagel seeks to ameliorate the conflict between personal values and the impersonal demands of equality (see Cohen 2008). The latter are realized in an institutional scheme; we aim, by contrast, to give subjective values sufficient free play within the scope of the personal, beyond those institutions.
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