A Critique of Rawls' Contract Doctrine

Review of Metaphysics 28 (1):89 - 115 (1974)
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Abstract

JOHN RAWLS IN A Theory of Justice attempts to deduce "the principles of justice" from the idea of a "contract" among free and equal persons. The factor which obviously distinguishes Rawls’ contract doctrine from the teachings of the great social contract philosophers who preceded him is that it does not rest on any examination of what the character of an actual nonpolitical condition or "state of nature" among men would be. Rawls’ procedure is in fact the opposite of that followed by his predecessors: instead of inferring the principles of the contract from what men, given their nature, would be likely to agree upon in the absence of an already existing government and set of laws, he freely constructs the character and circumstances of the parties to his "purely hypothetical" "original position of equality" in order "to lead to a certain conception of justice". That conception is to consist of.

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