Editorial Reviews. Review. “John Rawls draws on the most subtle techniques of contemporary Kindle Store · Kindle eBooks · Politics & Social Sciences. Cambridge, Mass., Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, This volume is a widely-read book of political philosophy and ethics. Arguing for a principled reconciliation of liberty and equality, it attempts to solve the problem of distributive justice (this concerns what is. Since it appeared in , John Rawls's "A Theory of Justice" has become a classic. The author has now revised the original edition to clear up a number of.
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In this work the author argues that the correct principles of justice are those that would be agreed to by free and rational persons, placed in the original position. Though the revised edition of A Theory of Justice, published in , is the definitive statement of Rawls's view, so much of the extensive. This book is a revised edition of A Theory of Justice, published in by Harvard University Press. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data. Rawls.
Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other: Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. A Theory of Justice by John Rawls ,. The author has now revised the original edition to clear up a number of difficulties he and others have found in the original book. Rawls aims to express an essential part of the common core of the democratic tradition - justice as fairness - and to provide an alternative to utilitarianism, wh Since it appeared in , John Rawls's A Theory of Justice has become a classic.
Rawls aims to express an essential part of the common core of the democratic tradition - justice as fairness - and to provide an alternative to utilitarianism, which had dominated the Anglo-Saxon tradition of political thought since the nineteenth century.
Rawls substitutes the ideal of the social contract as a more satisfactory account of the basic rights and liberties of citizens as free and equal persons.
Get A Copy. Paperback , Original Edition , pages. Published March 31st by Belknap Press first published January 1st More Details Original Title. Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about A Theory of Justice , please sign up. Wow, how awesome you read this! Looks like you agree with him Or is it the veil of ignorance you like?
N I see what you did there! Exclamation point! See 2 questions about A Theory of Justice…. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details.
More filters. Sort order. Fans of Philosophy, Politics. Libertarian ideas, the staple of American political and social discourse, receive no attention as such in this book. To the extent that libertarianism factors in at all, Rawls dismisses it so peremptorily he practically laughs at it.
A Theory of Justice takes up a problem that goes back to the Enlightenment: If rights inure to individual persons, what role can society really play in our lives? Key to this paradox, it is argued, are the concepts of the good and of the right. A good society, then, cannot let its moral structure be dictated by its economic practices.
The author dials us back to the state of nature, the famous theoretical starting point of Locke and Rousseau from which a society somehow must emerge. Rawls advocates an objective and rational social contract theory. His book takes aim at two alternatives, utilitarianism and perfectionism. Outside dictatorships, he says, these are the two principles that actually do drive social and government policies in the rest of the world -- hence an example of the oblique swatdown of libertarian ideas.
He takes apart both theories and proposes his own, based on a notion of equal liberties. Justice entails equal liberty for each person, and this principle has priority over other concepts. It is misguided, he argues, to justify any system on the basis of deduction or induction from starting principles.
Starting principles alone will prove unable to account for a social system in its entirety. Justification for a system of social organization must come from a judgment of the system as a totality.
That is, justification comes from within that system, taken as a whole. Here the critique of other ideals is less oblique, and the disagreement more contentious. Libertarianism, this text implies, relies on principles common to many viewpoints.
Late in the book by which I mean to say: You cannot get by reading just part of it he critiques the idea of private society. Through Kant, too, he links natural rights with natural duties.
Altruism he denies as a duty of justice: His original position is one of rational self-interest. Rawls stresses the ideal nature of his theory, not its practical applications. The implication of his reasoning is that, rather than using ideals as the basis of some sort of revolution, whoever understands this theory will be able to apply it in small ways throughout society.
It can also be applied piecemeal by people in authority within a society or government without having suddenly to rewrite the entire existing social arragement. The ideal theory empowers people to act on practical problems rather than dream of a perfect but unattainable future utopia. I rate this book highly and recommend it to everyone. It is a work of philosophy that is accessible to non-philosophers, giving it a great advantage over philosophical works destined to remain within the confines of academia.
It is a complete work, covering every aspect of society. It is highly innovative in its conception, a thought experiment laid out by a compelling and provocative line of reasoning. It carves out a specific niche in political thought.
The proposal Rawls lays out has explanatory and predictive power. The book is perfect for people who love to read about ideas; but best of all, it satisfies the need of individuals to find some way to insert themselves into today's dramatically depersonalized social structure, a system that has arisen in our world through a mixture of complex technology and simple cruelty.
View all 7 comments. Sep 01, Hadrian rated it really liked it Shelves: A long involved theory of justice - create a society where you would be treated fairly, if you do not know what position you would occupy in such a society. Jan 02, Greg rated it it was amazing Shelves: The book that I wound up reading most often in college my major was Ethics, Politics and Economics.
It shaped my worldview and politics perhaps more than any other book ever. I am elevating it from 4 stars to 5 stars because of that, in spite of the fact that it can be a bit of a slog. With this book, Rawls reignited political theory after a period during which not much of anything new had been said for decades, but he's not exactly a brilliant prose stylist.
View 1 comment. Jan 30, Andrew added it Shelves: My beef with John Rawls is twofold. First, there's his seriously questionable method invoking the "veil of ignorance," which is just a spiffier version of the easy-to-discredit social contract theory.
Second, he seems to arrive at remarkably dull conclusions, that liberal democracy is the best possible way of dealing with human relations. OK, so first you're assuming all the assumptions that Western post-Enlightenment classical-liberals have, and then using those assumptions to inform a spurious My beef with John Rawls is twofold. OK, so first you're assuming all the assumptions that Western post-Enlightenment classical-liberals have, and then using those assumptions to inform a spurious thought experiment.
So why am I unsurprised that you're assuming further that the subjects of that thought experiment "naturally" have a Western post-enlightenment classical-liberal concept of justice and morality? Jesus, this is such bad philosophy, attempting to remain in this Kantian space aloft from the messy contradictions of human behavior. Sorry Johnny, that ain't how the world works. View all 4 comments. Jan 07, Peter Mcloughlin rated it it was amazing Shelves: This book came out of the debates in the Seventies between Rawls a defender of the postwar welfare state and later in the decade Robert Nozick who defended the right wing Libertarian conception of society in "Anarchy, State, and Utopia".
Rawls theory of Justices is an exercise in the Lockean social contract tradition with the idea of the society and its conception of justice put together by its members by agreeing on principles which the society is to be based.
The social contract. It doesn't This book came out of the debates in the Seventies between Rawls a defender of the postwar welfare state and later in the decade Robert Nozick who defended the right wing Libertarian conception of society in "Anarchy, State, and Utopia". It doesn't matter that historically that no such society came about this way. It is merely to inform the reader of how a just society and our idea of justice should be centered.
The social contract for Rawls is drawn between agents who have a good general knowledge about the world but have no idea of their position or identity in a society in terms of position socially or where they are in time or space. This is called by Rawls the original position under the veil of ignorance. Such agents would design a society for maximal political freedom and a default of equality including distributional equality. Inequality is only permitted to exist if it benefits the least well off members of society.
This idea of justice seems to be in keeping with the ideals and expectations of liberals in the optimism and prosperity of postwar Europe and America. Nozick who came later in the decade was a harbinger of a neoliberal order that was to come and its minimalist state and antipathy to redistribution. We are living under Nozick's regime of justice and see its fruits Maybe Nozick won the debate especially for the one percent but We always have the option to return to Rawls conception which in many ways is the better one.
Dec 06, Farjana Chowdhury rated it really liked it. In "A Theory of Justice", John Rawls presents a conception of justice which, as he puts it, generalises and carries to a higher level of abstraction the social contract theory. So, rather than dictating the exact form of government to be applied, the persons in the Rawls' original position would, in trying to further their own interests, decide upon principles of justice to regulate the basic distributive structure of society.
Concerned only with institutional justice, the theory dictates that i In "A Theory of Justice", John Rawls presents a conception of justice which, as he puts it, generalises and carries to a higher level of abstraction the social contract theory.
Concerned only with institutional justice, the theory dictates that individual distributions are just to the extent that they are made through just institutions. While most other social contract theories appeal directly to the judgment of the reader in deciding how society is to be organized, Rawls takes the idea one step further by asking us to imagine to which conclusion people with certain defined properties would come when placed in the original position.
Third, there are some restrictions to the choices made in the initial situation. For example, Rawls takes for granted that people in the original position would rather have some form of government than, say, anarchy. Finally, Rawls assumes that the parties in the original position are all looking to securing so-called primary goods which, according to Rawls, are things that every rational person wants, no matter what his or her goals are in life, including such things as liberties, opportunities and wealth.
The concept of justice as fairness comes, Rawls argues, not from the idea that justice and fairness are the same, but from the fact that agreements and conclusions are reached in a fair original position. Thus, since the original position is fair, the agreements reached in it are fair, too. Rawls further argues that since the conception of justice agreed upon in the original position is fair, it would bring us as close as we could come to a society in which people have explicitly consented to a certain conception of justice.
The idea of justice as fairness is further enforced by the participants in the original position being rational, mutually disinterested, informed in certain areas and lacking knowledge in others. The lack of knowledge about advantageous or disadvantageous natural endowments and social circumstances eliminates a biased conception of justice.
To Rawls, it is important that the idea of justice as fairness contrasts that of utilitarianism. He argues that classical utilitarianism, in only looking to maximise utility regardless of how it is divided between individuals, does not take seriously the distinction between persons.
He further claims that utilitarianism would not be chosen by the parties in the original position because of the possibility of an enormously disadvantageous division of utility. While this choice admittedly would be made entirely out of self-interest, it is nevertheless effective as an argument in favour of Rawls' idea of justice as fairness. The principles of justice that the persons in the original position would decide upon are, as Rawls presents them in his book, the following: First Principle: Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others Liberty Principle.
Second Principle: Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both reasonably expected to be to everyone's advantage Difference Principle, and attached to positions and offices open to all Principle of Fair Equality of Opportunity. The first and second principles form the special conception of justice while the general conception of justice is the Difference Principle applied to all social values, phrased by Rawls thus: This is not a change in the theory, Rawls would argue, since he holds that if the least advantaged are benefited, so will everyone else.
The general conception of justice, Rawls claims, applies to a society in which the social conditions of some restrict them from exercising their basic liberties.
When that standard has been reached, the special conception of justice takes over. Within the special conception of justice, there is a lexicographical ordering of principles. Only when the conditions of the Liberty Principle have been met does the Principle of Fair Equality of Opportunity come into play, and so on.
The reason for dividing the theory into the general and special conceptions of justice, as touched upon earlier, is that unless a level of adequate social conditions is reached, people cannot make use of their basic liberties. Furthermore, Rawls claims that there is a relation between the social conditions in which we find ourselves and how greatly we value liberty.
As our social conditions improve, we start to value liberty more and welfare less.
When we reach a point at which we value welfare and liberty equally, we can be said to have reached a level of adequate social conditions. Rawls argues that by applying the general conception of justice, this level can hopefully be reached, prompting a switch from the general to the special conception of justice.
Arguably, there are some difficulties in the application of the two conceptions of justice on a given society. For one, it seems hard to pin down exactly where to draw the line between adequate and inadequate social conditions.
While Rawls does provide some guidelines for this purpose, he does not explain in detail at which point, exactly, the switch between the conceptions would take place. Presumably, the level of adequate social conditions is not invariable.
Depending on the nation in which the principles of justice are to be applied, this level must be subject to some variations. For example, if the nation is wealthy, the level of adequate social conditions is presumed to rise. Nevertheless, the idea remains vague and arguably subjective. Another difficulty is that even though the general conception of justice dictates that all social values are to be distributed so as to make the least advantaged as well off as possible, it allows for this distribution to be unequal.
This means that while the worst off might reach a level of adequate social conditions, there is a possibility of inequalities growing as a consequence, which result in higher standards of living and higher requirements on people, for example in regards to work opportunities. Indeed, as the general level of well-being rises, so does the level at which we define adequate social conditions.
And so, because the level of adequate social conditions constantly changes, we are just as often forced to switch between the general conception and the special conception of justice, resulting in what Rawls would like to avoid; an unstable society.
Nov 25, Wendy rated it really liked it Shelves: So, first off: I think it's very readable and entertaining for a work of academic philosophy, but this is probably not a book to take to the beach. It also helps if you've had a basic course in philosophy, or have recently read a book like Michael Sandel's Justice , because the book will be very hard going if you don't have at least a glimmer of an idea about utilitarianism or Kantianism.
So, why read Rawls? It's often asserted that Rawls's work is the philo So, first off: It's often asserted that Rawls's work is the philosophical basis for modern American liberalism. I think it would be more accurate to say that most modern American liberals have a set of intuitions about justice that happen to dovetail pretty well with Rawls's philosophy.
But if you are a political liberal, and you feel it's important to have a sound philosophical basis for your liberalism, you've probably got to consider Rawls's position, even if you reject it.
Rawls starts with a pretty neat philosophical conceit: In other words, without knowing what their society would look like, what position they might occupy in it, or even what sort of goals and interests they might have, what rules would people agree to be bound by? I like this idea, because it seems to me that you can accept the method without necessarily accepting Rawls's conclusions. Also, it seems to offer a way to get at an ethical conception that might not be so tightly bound to a particular philosopher's societal circumstances.
Kantianism seems so well-suited to the mind-set of an Enlightenment German Protestant non-conformist that one can't help be a bit suspicious of its general applicability. Though, in all fairness, I have to admit that the rules that Rawls comes up with seem very well suited to the mind-set of a midth century American liberal.
He proposes two rules for a just society, which are to be applied in the following order: Everyone should have the maximum liberty that is consistent with everyone having the same liberty. Social and economic advantages should be distributed under conditions of fair equality of opportunity, and inequalities in the distribution of such advantages should be allowed only to the extent that such inequalities benefit the least well-favored in society.
We get to these rules about pages in. The rest of the book is devoted to explaining what they mean and how they would be applied. It's fascinating stuff, but it defies easy summary.
One of the most tricky parts of Rawls's theory is the part about inequalities benefitting the least well-favored - in fact, it's not unusual to see critiques of Rawls that focus exclusively on that, and ignore the rest of his argument. Occasionally you see people go on as if Rawls supported some kind of Harrison Bergeron-like state of absolute enforced equality.
This seems silly, since it's hard to see how such a society would be consistent with the principle of maximum liberty which takes priority over the other principle. Rawls potentially allows for staggeringly large degrees of economic or social inequality, as long as it can be demonstrated that these inequalities benefit the least well-off.
Actually doing such a demonstration is left to the economists or the sociologists. Which makes a lot of sense. Still, if forming a perfectly just society were easy, we'd have done it by now. Anyway, this book is not an easy read, but it's well worth reading. I think that even if you disagree with its conclusions or, like me, think you at least need more time to think about and digest its conclusions , it will change the way you think about justice.
View all 3 comments. Apr 14, Nooilforpacifists rated it did not like it. Although he's liberalism's pet philosopher, the important concepts in this book are completely misguided: Not understanding economics, he basises justice on a "fairness" the famous "veil of ignorance" dis-coupled from economic reality and markets. It fails to account for progress, productivity, and the possibility of change.
In the end, Rawls was neither a philosopher, nor a moralist--he was a liberal scold, who regrettably lives on providing aid and Although he's liberalism's pet philosopher, the important concepts in this book are completely misguided: In the end, Rawls was neither a philosopher, nor a moralist--he was a liberal scold, who regrettably lives on providing aid and comfort to extreme movements such as "Occupy Wall Street" and environmental "back-to-the-Stone Age" doomsayers.
Jan 12, Joshua rated it it was ok. John Rawls presents the reader with a thought experiment based on the social contract, original position, and his very own "veil of ignorance. The thing that's supposed to be so revolutionary is that these players aren't aware of their position in society and they don't really know anything about their own identity, except t John Rawls presents the reader with a thought experiment based on the social contract, original position, and his very own "veil of ignorance.
The thing that's supposed to be so revolutionary is that these players aren't aware of their position in society and they don't really know anything about their own identity, except that they have an identity and that they are REALLY goddamn rational, like REALLY rational.
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