Religious Belief in a Rawlsian Society

Journal of Religious Ethics 15 (1):33 - 58 (1987)


This paper examines the status of religious belief in a Rawlsian society, that is, a society ordered in accord with John Rawls' theory of justice as fairness. After arguing in support of Rawls that any adequate theory of justice will discriminate against obviously unjust and/or irrational conceptions of the good, I argue that a Rawlsian society would also disadvantage at least some conceptions of the good, including, most notably, some common religious conceptions, which are arguably neither unjust nor irrational. This more questionable discrimination follows from Rawls' reliance on a restricted body of information to derive the basic institutional framework for a well-ordered society and from the need, within any such society, to foster widespread acceptance by citizens of a particular self-conception, that embodied in Rawls' ideal of moral personality. I conclude that, contrary to what Rawls has claimed, his otherwise appealing vision of a just society depends on philosophically, politically and religiously contentious claims regarding the nature and knowledge of human good.

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