Rawls on the practicability of utilitarianism

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 8 (2):201-221 (2009)
Abstract
John Rawls's claim to have demonstrated the superiority of his own two principles of justice to the principle of utility has generated fairly extensive critical discussion. However, this discussion has almost completely disregarded those of Rawls's arguments that are concerned with practicability, despite the significance accorded to them by Rawls himself. This article addresses the three most important of Rawls's objections against the practicability of utilitarianism: (1) that utilitarianism would generate too much disagreement to be politically workable, (2) that a utilitarian society would be vulnerable to social instability, and (3) that publicly adopting the principle of utility as the ultimate criterion of right and wrong would undermine the self-respect of some citizens. It is argued that Rawls's objections are either exaggerated or mistaken, and that this may have an impact on the assessment of `justice as fairness' as well as the utilitarian doctrine. Key Words: justice as fairness • feasibility • disagreement • stability • self-respect.
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