‘perhaps the most important primary good’: Self-respect and rawls’s principles of justice

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 4 (2):195-219 (2005)
The article begins by reconstructing the just distribution of the social bases of self-respect, a principle of justice that is covert in Rawls’s writing. I argue that, for Rawls, justice mandates that each social basis for self-respect be equalized (and, as a second priority, maximized). Curiously, for Rawls, that principle ranks higher than Rawls’s two more famous principles of justice - equal liberty and the difference principle. I then recall Rawls’s well-known confusion between self-respect and another form of self-appraisal, namely, confidence in one’s determinate plans and capacities. Correcting that confusion forces Rawls to accept objectionable and illiberal politics. Surprisingly, a consistent Rawls must endorse absolute economic equality, deny liberty any priority whatsoever, or sponsor still other illiberal political views - evidence of a flaw in the ethical basis of Rawls’s politics. Key Words: self-respect • self-esteem • distributive justice • Rawls • maximin • primary goods • liberty • equality • lexicographical order.
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Samuel Arnold (2011). The Difference Principle at Work. Journal of Political Philosophy 20 (1):94-118.
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