A Defense of the Maximin Principle in Rawls' Theory of Justice


In his celebrated work, A Theory of Justice (1971), John Rawls argues that, from behind the veil of ignorance, parties in the original position will employ the maximin decision rule to reason to his two principles of justice. In this journal, Olatunji Oyeshile offers a brief and concise outline of some of the historical criticisms of that argument. Oyeshile offers two important criticisms of Rawls' argument. Both, however, are somewhat misplaced, as I shall show. First, he claims that decision theory offers parties in the original position other decision procedures. In fact, none of the alternatives are suitable, given the situation. And second, parties in the original position would first guarantee some minimum of libertarian goods, and then seek additional profits. This objection demonstrates a misunderstanding of the place of the maximin decision rule, as I shall show. I believe that both criticisms stem from a close and careful reading of Buchanan's essay on Rawls. Unfortunately, Buchanan himself seemed to have misunderstood Rawls' original arguments. I rely on problems in Buchanan's original work to defend Rawls' theory against Oyeshile's criticisms.

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Robert C. Robinson
CUNY Graduate Center

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