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John Rawls

Edited by Shaun Young (York University, University of Toronto)
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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 1971; 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. J. Aaron (2006). Constructing Justice for Existing Practice: Rawls and the Status Quo. Philosophy and Public Affairs 33:281 - 316.
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  2. Ruth Abbey (ed.) (2013). Feminist Interpretations of John Rawls. Penn State University Press.
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  3. Ruth Abbey (2007). Rawlsian Resources for Animal Ethics. Ethics and the Environment 12 (1):1-22.
    : This article considers what contribution the work of John Rawls can make to questions about animal ethics. It argues that there are more normative resources in A Theory of Justice for a concern with animal welfare than some of Rawls's critics acknowledge. However, the move from A Theory of Justice to Political Liberalism sees a depletion of normative resources in Rawlsian thought for addressing animal ethics. The article concludes by endorsing the implication of A Theory of Justice that we (...)
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  4. Edward Abplanalp, Background Environmental Justice: An Extension of Rawls's Political Liberalism.
    This dissertation extends John Rawls’s mature theory of justice out to address the environmental challenges that citizens of liberal democracies now face. Specifically, using Rawls’s framework of political liberalism, I piece together a theory of procedural justice to be applied to a constitutional democracy. I show how citizens of pluralistic democracies should apply this theory to environmental matters in a four stage contracting procedure. I argue that, if implemented, this extension to Rawls’s theory would secure background environmental justice. I explain (...)
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  5. Bruce Ackerman (1994). Political Liberalisms. Journal of Philosophy 91 (7):364-386.
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  6. Robert Merrihew Adams (2009). Conflict. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 83 (1):115-132.
    The following theses are defended. Conflict has importantly valuable functions, but we obviously need to limit its destructiveness. The efficacy of reasoning together in resolving or restraining conflict is limited; it needs to be supplemented by procedures such as negotiation, compromise, and voting. Despite the urgency of justice, when the resolution or limitation of a conflict needs to be negotiated, the best attainable outcome will often not seem completely just to all parties, and some claims of justice, as seen by (...)
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  7. M. Agnafors (2012). Reassessing Walzer's Social Criticism. Philosophy and Social Criticism 38 (9):917-937.
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  8. James Aho (2010). Harold Garfinkel: Toward a Sociological Theory of Information. Ed. Anne Warfield Rawls. [REVIEW] Human Studies 33 (1):117-121.
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  9. Roberto Alejandro (1998). The Limits of Rawlsian Justice. Johns Hopkins University Press.
    The idea of fairness lies at the heart of the concept of justice proposed by political philosopher John Rawls, a concept that liberals have often invoked to defend the welfare state. In The Limits of Rawlsian Justice political theorist Roberto Alejandro challenges the assumptions that Rawls set out to defend his position. While other opponents of Rawls have attempted to offer an alternative to his concept of justice as fairness, Alejandro instead examines Rawls from within his own writings, testing Rawls's (...)
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  10. J. E. J. Altham (1973). Rawls's Difference Principle. Philosophy 48 (183):75 - 78.
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  11. Andrew Altman (1983). Rawls' Pragmatic Turn. Journal of Social Philosophy 14 (3):8-12.
  12. Juan Carlos Alútiz (2004). Homenaje póstumo a John Rawls. Isegoría 31:5-45.
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  13. A. C. Amato (2004). Sul diritto dei popoli. A proposito della teoria non ideale di John Rawls. Rivista Internazionale di Filosofia Del Diritto 81.
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  14. Jeremy Anderson, © 1991 Jeremy@Jeremyanderson.Net.
    The contractarian theory elaborated by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice exploits the difference principle in a great many ways. Rawls argues that, when used as part of a set of guiding principles for structuring the basic institutions of society, it simplifies the problem of interpersonal comparisons (91-4)1, helps compensate for the arbitrariness of natural endowments (101-3), promotes a harmony of interests between citizens (104-5), reintroduces the principle of fraternity to democratic society (105-6), and, what is critical to his (...)
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  15. Stephen C. Angle (2005). Decent Democratic Centralism. Political Theory 33 (4):518 - 546.
    Are there any coherent and defensible alternatives to liberal democracy? The author examines the possibility that a reformed democratic centralism-the principle around which China's current polity is officially organized-might be legitimate, according to both an inside and an outside perspective. The inside perspective builds on contemporary Chinese political theory; the outside perspective critically deploys Rawls's notion ofa "decent society " as its standard. Along the way, the author pays particular attention to the kinds and degree of pluralism a decent society (...)
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  16. Erik Angner (2004). Revisiting Rawls:A Theory of Justice in the Light of Levi's Theory of Decision. Theoria 70 (1):3-21.
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  17. Karl-Otto Apel (2001). Is a Political Conception of “Overlapping Consensus” an Adequate Basis for Global Justice? The Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy 11:1-15.
    This paper considers how the problem of justice is to be globalized in the political theory of John Rawls. I discuss first the conception of “overlapping consensus” as an innovation in Rawls’s Political Liberalism and point out the recurrence of the problem of a philosophical foundation in his pragmatico-political interpretation. I suggest an intensification of Rawls’s notion of the “priority of the right to the good” as a philosophical correction to his political self-interpretation, and then finally carry through on a (...)
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  18. Marcelo de Araújo (2007). Justiça internacional e direitos humanos: uma abordagem contratualista. Veritas 52 (1).
    Minha intenção é mostrar, contra o realismo em relações internacionais, que, ao abordarmos os conceitos de justiça internacional e de direitos humanos, a partir de uma perspectiva contratualista, o denominado conflito entre o interesse nacional e as exigências da moralidade se mostra bem menos problemático. Apresento os principais argumentos em favor do contratualismo através de uma reconstrução da teoria moral de David Gauthier. Em seguida, procuro mostrar que o tipo de contratualismo defendido por Rawls e seus seguidores não é capaz (...)
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  19. Matthew Arbo (2013). Why Political Liberalism? On John Rawls's Political Turn by Paul Weithman. Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 33 (1):203-204.
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  20. D. Archard (forthcoming). John Rawls, Political Liberalism. Radical Philosophy.
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  21. René V. Arcilla (2013). Rawls, Sartre, and the Question of Camaraderie. Studies in Philosophy and Education 32 (5):491-502.
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  22. Richard Arneson, Introduction to Rawls on Justice and Rawls on Utilitarianism.
    According to Rawls, the principles of justice are principles that determine a fair resolution of conflicts of interest among persons in a society. “A set of principles is required for choosing among the various social arrangements which determine this division of advantages and for underwriting an agreement on the proper distributive shares” (p. 4). Different interpretations or conceptions of justice fill out this core concept; a theory of justice seeks a best conception. Justice takes priority over other normative claims—as Rawls (...)
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  23. Richard Arneson, Rawls, Responsibility, and Distributive Justice.
    The theory of justice pioneered by John Rawls explores a simple idea--that the concern of distributive justice is to compensate individuals for misfortune. Some people are blessed with good luck, some are cursed with bad luck, and it is the responsibility of society--all of us regarded collectively--to alter the distribution of goods and evils that arises from the jumble of lotteries that constitutes human life as we know it. Some are lucky to be born wealthy, or into a favorable socializing (...)
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  24. Richard Arneson, Rawls Versus Utilitarianism in the Light of Political Liberalism.
    The critique of utilitarianism forms a crucial subplot in the complex analysis of social justice that John Rawls develops in his first book, A Theory of Justice.1 The weaknesses of utilitarianism indicate the need for an alternative theory, and at many stages of the argument the test for the adequacy of the new theory that Rawls elaborates is whether it can be demonstrated to be superior to the utilitarian rival. The account of social justice shifts in the transition to Rawls’s (...)
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  25. Richard Arneson, Two Cheers for Capabilities.
    What is the best standard of interpersonal comparison for a broadly egalitarian theory of social justice?1 A broadly egalitarian theory is one that holds that justice requires that institutions and individual actions should be arranged to improve, to some degree, the quality of life of those who are worse off than others, or very badly off, or both.2 I shall add the specification that to qualify as broadly egalitarian, the theory must in some circumstances require action to aid the worse (...)
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  26. Richard Arneson (2008). Justice is Not Equality. Ratio 21 (4):371-391.
    This essay disputes G. A. Cohen's claim that John Rawls's argument for the difference principle involves an argument from moral arbitrariness to equality and then an illicit move away from equality. Moreover, the claim that an argument from moral arbitrariness establishes equality as the essential distributive justice ideal is found wanting.
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  27. Richard J. Arneson (2013). From Primary Goods to Capabilities to Well-Being. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 16 (2):179-195.
    Amartya Sen?s The Idea of Justice (2009) mistakenly characterizes transcendental accounts of justice as being unable to compare non-ideal alternatives, and thus misfires as a criticism of Robert Nozick and John Rawls. In fact, Nozick?s disinterest in when rights may be overridden does not bespeak indifference to specific questions of comparative assessment, and Lockean rights do give determinate advice in everyday circumstances. Sen correctly reports that Rawls?s theory is defective at giving practical normative advice, but the basic problem is the (...)
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  28. Richard J. Arneson (1999). Against Rawlsian Equality of Opportunity. Philosophical Studies 93 (1):77-112.
    According to John Rawls, "Justice is the first virtue of social institutions."1 Like Gaul, justice is tripartite. Rawls affirms an Equal Liberty Principle that guarantees equal basic or constitutional liberties for all citizens and a Difference Principle that requires inequalities in the distribution of certain social and economic benefits, the primary social goods, to be set so that the long-term holdings of primary social goods are maximized for the citizens whose holdings are least. Sandwiched between these two principles is a (...)
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  29. Marcus Arvan (forthcoming). First Steps Toward a Nonideal Theory of Justice. Ethics and Global Politics.
    Theorists have long debated whether John Rawls’ conception of justice as fairness can be extended to nonideal (i.e. unjust) social and political conditions, and if so, what the proper way of extending it is. This paper argues that in order to properly extend justice as fairness to nonideal conditions, Rawls’ most famous innovation – the original position – must be reconceived in the form of a “nonideal original position.” I begin by providing a new analysis of the ideal/nonideal theory distinction (...)
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  30. Daniel Attas (2008). The Difference Principle and Time. Politics, Philosophy and Economics 7 (2):209-232.
    Rawls's difference principle contains a certain normative ambiguity, so that opposing views, including strong inegalitarian ones, might find a home under it. The element that introduces this indeterminacy is the absence of an explicit reference to time . Thus, a society that agrees on the difference principle as the proper justification of basic political-economic institutions, might nevertheless disagree on whether their specific institutions are justified by that principle. Such disagreement would most often centre on issues of fact: will a more (...)
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  31. Catherine Audard (2011). Rawls and Habermas on the Place of Religion in the Political Domain. In James Gordon Finlayson & Fabian Freyenhagen (eds.), Habermas and Rawls: Disputing the Political. Rouledge.
  32. Catherine Audard (ed.) (2004). Rawls: Politique Et Métaphysique. Presses Universitaire de France.
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  33. Catherine Audard (2002). Rawls in France. European Journal of Political Theory 1 (2):215-227.
    The reception of Rawls in France has been an extremely complex story where forces of innovation have been, in the end, overwhelmed by the resistance of `philosophical nationalism'. This is surprising as, in many ways, France was going through tremendous changes and modernization at the time of the translation of A Theory of Justice in 1987. In that context, Rawls's project seemed to have something useful and suggestive to offer: bridging the gap between freedom and equality in a new version (...)
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  34. Catherine Audard (1994). Consensus and Democracy. An Anglo-French Conference on John Rawls. Ratio Juris 7 (3):267-271.
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  35. Mitchell Avila (2007). Defending a Law of Peoples: Political Liberalism and Decent Peoples. [REVIEW] Journal of Ethics 11 (1):87 - 124.
    In this paper I reconstruct and defend John Rawls' The Law of Peoples, including the distinction between liberal and decent peoples. A “decent people” is defined as a people who possesses a comprehensive doctrine and uses that doctrine as the ground of political legitimacy, while liberal peoples do not possess a comprehensive doctrine. I argue that liberal and decent peoples are bound by the same normative requirements with the qualification that decent peoples accept the same normative demands when they are (...)
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  36. Samuel R. Aybar, Joshua D. Harlan & Won J. Lee (1991). John Rawls. The Harvard Review of Philosophy 1 (1):38-47.
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  37. Elvio Baccarini (2001). The Philosophy of John Rawls. Croatian Journal of Philosophy 1 (3):187-187.
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  38. J. -F. Bacot (1995). John Rawls: le rationnel et le raisonnable. Philosopher 17:73-102.
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  39. Gabriele Badano (2013). Political Liberalism and the Justice Claims of the Disabled: A Reconciliation. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (4):1-22.
    Unlike his theory of justice as fairness, John Rawls’s political liberalism has generally been spared from critiques regarding what is due to the disabled. This paper demonstrates that, due to the account of the basic ideas of society and persons provided by Rawls, political liberalism requires that the interests of numerous individuals with disabilities should be put aside when the most fundamental issues of justice are settled. My aim is to accommodate within public reason the due concern for the disabled (...)
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  40. Amy Baehr (2013). Feminist Interpretations of John Rawls.
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  41. Amy Baehr (2013). Liberal Feminism: Comprehensive and Political. In Feminist Interpretations of John Rawls. 150-166.
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  42. Amy R. Baehr (1996). Toward a New Feminist Liberalism: Okin, Rawls, and Habermas. Hypatia 11 (1):49 - 66.
    While Okin's feminist appropriation of Rawls's theory of justice requires that principles of justice be applied directly to the family, Rawls seems to require only that the family be minimally just. Rawls's recent proposal dulls the critical edge of liberalism by capitulating too much to those holding sexist doctrines. Okin's proposal, however, is insufficiently flexible. An alternative account of the relation of the political and the nonpolitical is offered by Jürgen Habermas.
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  43. Carla Bagnoli (forthcoming). Starting Points: Kantian Constructivism Reassessed. Ratio Juris.
    G.A. Cohen, and J. Raz object that Constructivism is incoherent because it crucially deploys unconstructed elements in the structure of justification. This paper offers a reply on behalf of constructivism, by reassessing the role of such unconstructed elements. First, it shows that a shared conception of rational agency works as a starting point for the justification, but it does not play a foundational role. Second, it accounts for the unconstructed norm that constrains the activity of construction as constitutive. Finally, on (...)
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  44. C. Edwin Baker (2008). Rawls, Equality, and Democracy. Philosophy and Social Criticism 34 (3):203-246.
    Part I distinguishes epistemic and choice democracy, attributing the first to the Rawls of A Theory of Justice but arguing that the second is more justifiable. Part II argues that in comparison with the difference principle, three principles — equal participation in choice democracy, no subordinating purpose, and a just wants guarantee — constitute a more rational choice in the original position; and that they better provide all the benefits claimed for the difference principle in its comparison with either average (...)
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  45. Robert Baker (1993). Visibility and the Just Allocation of Health Care: A Study of Age-Rationing in the British National Health Service. [REVIEW] Health Care Analysis 1 (2):139-150.
    The British National Health Service (BNHS) was founded, to quote Minister of Health Aneurin Bevan, to ‘universalise the best’. Over time, however, financial constraints forced the BNHS to turn to incrementalist budgeting, to rationalise care and to ask its practitioners to act as gatekeepers. Seeking a way to ration scarce tertiary care resources, BNHS gatekeepers began to use chronological age as a rationing criterion. Age-rationing became the ‘done thing’ without explicit policy directives and in a manner largely invisible to patients, (...)
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  46. Stephen W. Ball (1998). Critical Review of Rawls's Political Liberalism: A Utilitarian and Decision-Theoretical Analysis of the Main Arguments. Utilitas 10 (02):222-.
  47. Stephen W. Ball (1993). Maximin Justice, Sacrifice, and the Reciprocity Argument: A Pragmatic Reassessment of the Rawls/Nozick Debate. Utilitas 5 (02):157-.
  48. Stephen W. Ball (1987). Choosing Between Choice Models of Ethics: Rawlsian Equality, Utilitarianism, and the Concept of Persons. Theory and Decision 22 (3):209-224.
  49. Stephen W. Ball (1986). Economic Equality: Rawls Versus Utilitarianism. Economics and Philosophy 2 (02):225-.
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  50. M. Bankovsky (2011). Social Justice: Defending Rawls' Theory of Justice Against Honneth's Objections. Philosophy and Social Criticism 37 (1):95-118.
    This article argues that Honneth’s ‘plural conception of justice’, founded on a theory of recognition, does not succeed in distancing itself from Rawls’ liberal theory of justice. The article develops its argument by evaluating three major objections to Rawls’ liberalism raised by Honneth in his recent articles on justice: namely, first, that the parties responsible for choosing principles of justice are too individualistic and their practical reasoning too instrumentalist; second, that by taking as its ‘object-domain’ the negative liberty of persons, (...)
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