How Egalitarian is Rawls's Theory of Justice?

Philosophical Papers 39 (2):155-181 (2011)
Gerald Cohen's critique of John Rawls's theory of justice is that it is concerned only with the justice of social institutions, and must thus arbitrarily draw a line between those inequalities excluded and those allowed by the basic structure. Cohen claims that a proper concern with the interests of the least advantaged would rule out 'incentives' for 'talented' individuals. I argue that Rawls's assumption that the subject of justice is the basic structure of society does not arbitrarily restrict the concerns of political justice, as Cohen claims. Further, I argue that it does not allow 'deep' inequalities within a just basic structure. When properly understood, Rawls's theory of justice is strongly egalitarian, taken as a theory of fairness in the way the burdens and benefits of social cooperation are distributed, even if it is not as egalitarian as Cohen wishes
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DOI 10.1080/05568641.2010.503444
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John Rawls (1993). Political Liberalism. Columbia University Press.

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