John Rawls

Edited by Shaun Young (University of Toronto, St. George Campus)
About this topic
Summary John Rawls was an American moral and political philosopher whose work has been referred to as “epoch-making” and “cataclysmic in its effect.” His theorizing was fundamentally animated by a desire to address the problem of political (in)justice in modern constitutional democracies. Rawls spent more than 50 years developing and refining a conception of justice that he believed could offer the type of governance framework necessary to manage the problem of political (in)justice effectively and, in so doing, provide for the realization of an acceptably just and stable liberal democracy.
Key works The following offer the most comprehensive articulations of Rawls' theory of justice as fairness: Rawls ms; and Rawls 1993. Rawls 1999 represents Rawls' effort to apply his theory of justice as fairness to the realm of international relations. With Rawls 2001 Rawls sought to provide an authoritative yet concise “restatement” of his conception of justice as fairness that effectively synthesizes the arguments presented in his previously published work. A wonderful compilations of Rawls' essays is contained in Rawls 1999.
Introductions Since Rawls’s death in 2002, there has arisen a veritable cottage industry dedicated to summarizing and analyzing his work and its past, present and future impact upon the disciplines of moral and political philosophy. Among the more accessible yet instructive are Pogge 2007; Freeman 2007; Lehning 2009; Graham 2006; and Talisse 2001
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  1. John Rawls: Two Concepts of Rules.Leslie Allan - manuscript
    In his seminal essay, 'Two Concepts of Rules', John Rawls draws a central distinction between justifying a practice and justifying a particular action falling under it. In this review, Leslie Allan walks through Rawls's essay, highlighting his key arguments for a strengthened version of rule utilitarianism and reflecting on the lasting influence of his analysis.
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  2. Nozick’s “secret” macro-micro objection to Rawls.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    In a section of his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia entitled “Macro and Micro,” Nozick makes objections of a certain kind to Rawls. In this paper, I draw attention to a macro and micro objection that scattered material in that book entails.
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  3. “What is the difference between your subset objection to Rawls on utilitarianism and T.H. Irwin’s commentary?”.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    T.H. Irwin’s stimulating commentary on John Rawls anticipates but does not make “the subset objection to Rawls.” This term of mine is potentially misleading, but Irwin’s commentary is more so: I argue that relevant parts involve dubious commitments.
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  4. H.L.A. Hart, Scott Soames, and the priority of liberty rights over economic gains.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    This paper responds to material from Scott Soames’s wide ranging book The World Philosophy Made, material which I am actually tempted to overlook. Soames adds a detail to a criticism H.L.A. Hart makes of John Rawls, but I argue that Soames cannot consistently endorse this criticism, given his acceptance of trickle-down economics and his aspiration to cohere with a dominant strand of right-wing American philosophy.
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  5. On a Rawls specialist’s review of T.H. Irwin’s history of Western ethics.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    Should one read T.H. Irwin’s three volume history of Western ethics, or parts of it? Here one might turn to reviews. The journal The Philosophical Forum uses the sensible strategy of getting different specialists to review different parts of the book. There are two chapters on Rawls, each one reviewed by a Rawlsian. I wish to register discontent with Steven Ross’s review.
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  6. The fallibility objection to the original position.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    Do individuals in John Rawls’s original position take into account the fallibility of human nature? Some notable commentators on Rawls say that they do or that they should. But this enables us to say that individuals in the original position would not come to an agreement at all.
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  7. Trespassing and reflective equilibrium.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    In this paper, I present an objection to the reflective equilibrium method based on land purchases and trespassing. I then propose a solution, which involves a change to how we regard the method.
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  8. An ancient paradox applied to the difference principle (with the help of cryptocurrencies).Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    John Rawls’s difference principle says that we should change our economy if doing so is better for the worst-off group, on the condition that certain basic rights are secured. This paper presents a kind of case that challenges the principle. If we modify the principle to cope with the challenge, we open the way to a Sorites paradox.
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  9. Outline of a paradox of moral hesitation.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    In this paper, I present an outline of a paradox which is a variation on the lottery paradox and concerns whether we can ignore hesitant moral judgments.
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  10. Kenneth Arrow on Rawls’s “asset egalitarian” assumption about justice.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    Kenneth Arrow presents Rawls as making a controversial assumption, which he terms “asset egalitarianism”: that all the assets of society, including personal skills, are available for distribution. I distinguish two versions of the assumption and draw attention to difficulties in determining what Arrow’s concern over the assumption is.
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  11. The Hart-Rawls debate: libel, privacy infringement, reflective equilibrium.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    H.L.A. Hart objects to John Rawls’s liberty principle by drawing attention to how our legal system accepts the restriction of liberty to protect against other harms than liberty-deprivation, such as by laws against slander, libel, and publications which grossly infringe privacy. What is the solution for John Rawls, faced with this criticism? One solution is, by the reflective equilibrium method, to justify abandoning the judgment that these actions are immoral.
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  12. An alternative to charitable interpretation, with H.L.A. Hart.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    Philosophers, and students of philosophy, are often advised to interpret other philosophers charitably. In this paper, I present an alternative to interpreting charitably. I call it “the simple-model technique” and use H.L.A. Hart responding to John Rawls to illustrate it.
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  13. Puzzles from Joseph Raz’s obituary of H.L.A. Hart.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    Joseph Raz’s obituary of H.L.A. Hart for Utilitas raises certain puzzles, especially for readers coming from the research area analytic political philosophy. I present three puzzles.
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  14. What “everyone” needs to know? H.L.A. Hart and Scott Soames on reducing liberty.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    This is a two-page handout covering the subtle differences between H.L.A. Hart and Scott Soames on whether the protection of basic liberties would be prioritized using the original position method.
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  15. A liberal argument for restricting recreational drug consumption.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    In this paper, I identify an argument derived from the commitments of John Rawls’s liberalism for restricting the consumption of recreational drugs in a liberal society, but not because of a great passion for restriction at present. The argument can also be used to respond to Jonathan Quong’s example of an unresolvable disagreement between liberal citizens.
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  16. Problems start with the preface! Are fair equality of opportunity and Quine consistent?Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    The preface to A Theory of Justice includes the interesting suggestion that John Rawls’s system is consistent with W.V. Quine’s system. I raise a problem for achieving fair equality of opportunity granting Quine’s system: that one does not have to respond to apparent evidence that two candidates are equally suitable for a job in the desired way. There does not appear to be a logical inconsistency between the systems at this point, but in practice regular positive discrimination schemes are probably (...)
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  17. Lowe hanging fruit? Underdeterminism and the evaluation of libertarianism.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    I respond to Dan Lowe’s charge that libertarianism, or the most defensible version, involves an unacceptable “asymmetry of value.” I argue that there is an inconsistency between Lowe’s approach to counterexamples and his eventual objection.
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  18. Another objection from Sidgwick to Rawls’s liberty principle, and a response.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    There are other problems for John Rawls’s philosophy that can be extracted from Henry Sidgwick’s discussion of the priority of freedom, apart from the problem H.L.A. Hart focuses on. This paper considers one such problem – that it is an empirical issue whether a sane adult is better off more free, rather than something to be assumed – and presents one Rawlsian solution.
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  19. What “everyone” needs to know? Sidgwick and Hart against the priority of liberty.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    This is a one page handout, which draws attention to subtle adaptations that H.L.A. Hart makes regarding material from Henry Sidgwick, when he debates with Rawls and appeals to Sidgwick's objections to the priority of liberty. These adaptations challenge the impression that Rawls should have known better.
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  20. Doing history in the original position.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    An objection to John Rawls’s original position is that it faces a problem of inconsistent features: the individuals in this hypothetical situation are not supposed to know where they are in history, but they have knowledge of general social science, from which they can infer at which point in time they are. In this paper, I consider two solutions. One of these solutions depends on extending a solution to another well-known objection: that readers cannot imagine lacking the knowledge that these (...)
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  21. Three assumptions of Rawlsian reflective equilibrium.Terence Rajivan Edward - manuscript
    John Rawls recommends a reflective equilibrium method for evaluating which principles institutions should abide by. In this paper, I identify and challenge three assumptions that he makes.
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  22. Defense of Rawls: A Reply to Brock.Paul Fryfogle - manuscript
    Cosmopolitans like Gillian Brock, Charles Beitz, and Thomas Pogge argue that the principles of justice selected and arranged in lexical priority in Rawls’ first original position would—and should for the same reasons as in the first—also be selected in Rawls’ second original position. After all, the argument goes, what reasons other than morally arbitrary ones do we have for selecting a second set of principles? A different, though undoubtedly related, point of contention is the cosmopolitan charge that Rawls fails to (...)
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  23. The Independence/Dependence Paradox within John Rawls’s Political Liberalism.Ali Rizvi - manuscript
    Rawls in his later philosophy claims that it is sufficient to accept political conception as true or right, depending on what one's worldview allows, on the basis of whatever reasons one can muster, given one's worldview (doctrine). What political liberalism is interested in is a practical agreement on the political conception and not in our reasons for accepting it. There are deep issues (regarding deep values, purpose of life, metaphysics etc.) which cannot be resolved through invoking common reasons (this is (...)
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  24. The Uselessness of Rawls’s “Ideal Theory”.Uwe Steinhoff - manuscript
    Over the years a few authors have argued that Rawls’s ideal theory of justice is useless for the real world. This criticism has been largely ignored by Rawlsians, but in the light of a recent accumulation of such criticisms, some authors (in particular Holly Lawford-Smith, A. John Simmons, Zofia Stemplowska and Laura Valentini) have tried to defend ideal theory. In this article I will recapitulate the precise problem with Rawls’s ideal theory, argue that some of Rawls’s defenders misconceive it, and (...)
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  25. Free Will Denial, Punishment, and Original Position Deliberation.Benjamin Vilhauer - manuscript
    I defend a deontological social contract justification of punishment for free will deniers. Even if nobody has free will, a criminal justice system is fair to the people it targets if we would consent to it in a version of original position deliberation (OPD) where we assumed that we would be targeted by the justice system when the veil is raised. Even if we assumed we would be convicted of a crime, we would consent to the imprisonment of violent criminals (...)
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  26. Rawls and utilitarianism.Yujin Nagasawa - manuscript
    in John Rawls’ Theory of Social Justice, eds. Gene Blocker and Elizabeth Smith (Ohio University Press, 1980), pp.346-394.
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  27. Does the Original Position Yield the Maximin?David Baumslag - unknown - Eidos: The Canadian Graduate Journal of Philosophy 13.
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  28. Rebuilding Rawls: An Alternative Theory of Justice.Leo Groarke - unknown - Eidos: The Canadian Graduate Journal of Philosophy 2.
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  29. John Rawls Versus the Equality Monster.Phil Veldius - unknown - Eidos: The Canadian Graduate Journal of Philosophy 13.
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  30. Review of Jack Reynolds' "Chronopathologies: Time and Politics in Deleuze, Derrida, Analytic Philosophy, and Phenomenology". [REVIEW]Marco Altamirano - forthcoming - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:xx-yy.
  31. John Rawls, Political Liberalism.D. Archard - forthcoming - Radical Philosophy.
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  32. Hybrid Ethical Theory and Cohen’s Critique of Rawls’s Egalitarian Liberalism.Jamie Buckland - forthcoming - Moral Philosophy and Politics.
    This article examines G. A. Cohen’s endorsement of a hybrid ethical theory and its relationship to his critique of John Rawls’s egalitarian liberalism. Cohen claimed that Rawls’s appeal to special incentives was a distortion of his own difference principle. I argue that Cohen’s acceptance of a personal prerogative (the central element of Samuel Scheffler’s version of a hybrid ethical theory) has several untoward consequences. First, it illuminates how any reasonable challenge to Rawls’s liberalism must recognise Thomas Nagel’s arguments concerning the (...)
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  33. Hayvanlar ve Adalet: Rawls ve Nussbaum Bağlamında Bir İnceleme.Emine Cengiz - forthcoming - Beytulhikme An International Journal of Philosophy.
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  34. Ideal Theory and Real Politics: The Politics in Political Liberalism.Darren Cheng - forthcoming - Moral Philosophy and Politics.
    Realist thinkers in political philosophy often criticize ideal theorists for neglecting or eliminating the fact of politics in their work. This is supposed to be problematic because we should never expect to overcome politics. Any theory that attempts to do so is said to be unrealistic, naïve, and impractical. Although much has been said in the dispute between realists and ideal theorists in recent years, this particular line of criticism, which should be distinguished from other criticisms of ideal theory, has (...)
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  35. O Senso de Justiça em John Rawls.Raquel Cipriani Xavier - forthcoming - Filosofia Unisinos:1-16.
    Trata-se da tradução do artigo "The Sense of Justice", de John Rawls, publicado originalmente emThe Philosophical Review, Jul., 1963, Vol. 72, No. 3, pp. 281-305.
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  36. Beyond Ideal Theory: Foundations for a Critical Rawlsian Theory of Climate Justice.Paul Clements & Paul Formosa - forthcoming - New Political Science:1-20.
    Rawls’s contractualist approach to justice is well known for its adoption of ideal theory. This approach starts by setting out the political goal or ideal and leaves it to non-ideal or partial compliance theory to map out how to get there. However, Rawls’s use of ideal theory has been criticized by Sen from the right and by Mouffe from the left. We critically address these concerns in the context of developing a Rawlsian approach to climate justice. While the importance of (...)
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  37. Original position.Fred D'Agostino - forthcoming - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  38. Habermas, Rawls e Arendt.Delamar José Volpato Dutra - forthcoming - Dissertatio:128-151.
    O texto analisa quais teriam sido as razões estruturais pelas quais Habermas, no seu texto sobre a desobediência civil de 1983, estranhamente, não referencia o nome de Arendt, mas o de Rawls. Para isso, apresenta alguns elemen tos do t ratamento arendtiano da desobediên cia civil que inviabilizaram o alinhamento do trabalho de Habermas sobre a desobediência civil [1983] com aquele da pensadora. Por fim, aponta para as prox imidades da teoria de Habermas com aq uela de Rawls, muito embora (...)
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  39. Charlie Hebdo Meets Utility Monster.William A. Edmundson - forthcoming - The Critique.
    The Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015 and the subsequent attacks of November 13 cast a garish light onto a conundrum at the center of how liberal democracies understand themselves. The Syrian emigrant crisis has added further color. How can a tolerant, liberal political culture tolerate the presence of intolerant, illiberal, sub-cultures while remaining true to its principles of tolerance? The problem falls within the intersection of two developments in the thinking of John Rawls, the great American political philosopher who (...)
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  40. Listen Libertarians!: A Review of John Tomasi's Free Market Fairness. [REVIEW]David Ellerman - forthcoming - Journal of Economic Issues.
    John Tomasi's new book, Free Market Fairness, has been well-received as "one of the very best philosophical treatments of libertarian thought, ever" and as a "long and friendly conversation between Friedrich Hayek and John Rawls—a conversation which, astonishingly, reaches agreement". The book does present an authoritative state-of-the-debate across the spectrum from right-libertarianism on the one side to high liberalism on the other side. My point is not to question where Tomasi comes down with his own version of "market democracy" as (...)
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  41. A modern theodicy: John Rawls and ‘ The Law of Peoples’.Louis Fletcher - forthcoming - European Journal of Political Theory.
    John Rawls’ The Law of Peoples has typically been read as an intervention in the field of ‘global justice’. In this paper, I offer a different and widely overlooked interpretation. I argue that The Law of Peoples is a secular theodicy. Rawls wants to show that the 'great evils' of history do not condemn humankind by using a secularised form of moral faith to search for signs that the social world allows for the possibility of perfect justice. There are, I (...)
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  42. Rawls y la cláusula del valor equitativo de las libertades políticas.Iñigo González Ricoy - forthcoming - Enrahonar: Quaderns de Filosofía.
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  43. The maximin principle.John C. Harsanyi - forthcoming - Contemporary Political Theory: A Reader.
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  44. Review of John Rawls's Collected Papers. [REVIEW]Thomas Hill - forthcoming - Journal of Philosophy.
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  45. Problems in the Motivational Basis of Rawls’ Principles of Justice.Kazi Asm Nurul Huda - forthcoming - Philosophy and Progress:45-60.
    The paper explores the logical structure of Rawlsian justice principles in order to see whether their justificatory or explanatory conditions are unproblematic. To facilitate this purpose, drawing on readers of Rawls, the author shows that the Aristotelian principle is used to explain the principles of rational choice, particularly the principle of inclusiveness. Then, on the basis of the Aristotelian principle, Rawls justifies his conclusion, via the principles of rational choice and the theory of primary goods. After figuring out the logical (...)
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  46. Clarifying our duties to resist.Chong-Ming Lim - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 1.
    According to a prominent argument, citizens in unjust societies have a duty to resist injustice. The moral and political principles that ground the duty to obey the law in just or nearly just conditions, also ground the duty to resist in unjust conditions. This argument is often applied to a variety of unjust conditions. In this essay, I critically examine this argument, focusing on conditions involving institutionally entrenched and socially normalised injustice. In such conditions, the issue of citizens’ duties to (...)
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  47. Justice and fairness: mandating universal participation.Paul T. Menzel - forthcoming - Hastings Center Report.
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  48. Warding off the Evil Eye: Peer Envy in Rawls's Just Society.James S. Pearson - forthcoming - Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie.
    This article critically analyzes Rawls’s attitude toward envy. In A Theory of Justice, Rawls is predominantly concerned with the threat that class envy poses to political stability. Yet he also briefly discusses the kind of envy that individuals experience toward their social peers, which he calls particular envy, and which I refer to as peer envy. He quickly concludes, however, that particular envy would not present a serious risk to the stability of his just society. In this article, I contest (...)
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  49. The Harsanyi-Rawls debate: political philosophy as decision theory under uncertainty.Ramiro Ávila Peres - forthcoming - Manuscrito: Revista Internacional de Filosofía.
    Social decisions are often made under great uncertainty – in situations where political principles, and even standard subjective expected utility, do not apply smoothly. In the first section, we argue that the core of this problem lies in decision theory itself – it is about how to act when we do not have an adequate representation of the context of the action and of its possible consequences. Thus, we distinguish two criteria to complement decision theory under ignorance – Laplace’s principle (...)
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  50. Rawls on Just Savings and Economic Growth.Marcos Picchio - forthcoming - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy.
    In this article, I address a controversial aspect of Rawls’s treatment of the question of justice between generations: how the parties in the original position could be motivated to select Rawls’s preferred principle of intergenerational savings, which he dubs the just savings principle. I focus on the explanation found in his later work, where he proposes that the correct savings principle is the principle that any generation would have wanted preceding generations to have followed. By expanding upon this explanation, I (...)
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