The Limits of an Egalitarian Ethos: G. A. Cohen's Critique of Rawlsian Liberalism

Science and Society 75 (2):236 - 261 (2011)


G.A. Cohen’s critique of the Rawlsian difference principle points out an inconsistency in its presentation. The initial equality decided by the participants in the original position under the veil of ignorance is not preserved by the inequality sanctioned by the difference principle. Cohen shows how the breakdown of the initial equality of the original position prevents the desired results of the Rawlsian system from being realized. Cohen argues that an egalitarian ethos is required within a society for equality preserving economic distributions and Pareto superior outcomes to occur. Nonetheless, Cohen’s analysis of Rawls misses the ultimate cause of inequality, which is the dynamics of capital accumulation. An egalitarian ethos is only possible if there is a socialist mode of production to facilitate its development. Additionally, Cohen’s critique of Rawlsian constructivism through an argument for intuitionism does not address the natural-material existence of human beings. This existence must be considered for any advantageous social formation.

Download options


External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library


Added to PP

346 (#30,982)

6 months
30 (#29,994)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Similar books and articles

What Would a Rawlsian Ethos of Justice Look Like?Michael G. Titelbaum - 2008 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 36 (3):289-322.
Publicity and Egalitarian Justice.Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen - 2008 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 5 (1):30-49.
Contractualism, Reciprocity, and Egalitarian Justice.Jonathan Quong - 2007 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 6 (1):75-105.
Justice Beyond Equality.Jonathan Quong - 2010 - Social Theory and Practice 36 (2):315-340.
Basic Equality and the Site of Egalitarian Justice.Ian Carter - 2013 - Economics and Philosophy 29 (1):21-41.
Cohen’s Rescue.Jan Narveson - 2010 - The Journal of Ethics 14 (3-4):263-334.
Rescuing Justice and Equality.G. A. Cohen (ed.) - 2008 - Harvard University Press.
Marx, Rawls, Cohen, and Feminism.Paula Casal - 2015 - Hypatia 30 (4):811-828.
The Inegalitarian Ethos: Incentives, Respect, and Self-Respect.Emily McTernan - 2013 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 12 (1):93-111.
How Egalitarian is Rawls's Theory of Justice?Ian Hunt - 2010 - Philosophical Papers 39 (2):155-181.
The Division of Moral Labour and the Basic Structure Restriction.Thomas Porter - 2009 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 8 (2):173-199.

Author's Profile

Justin P. Holt
Wright College

References found in this work

Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - New York: Basic Books.
Political Liberalism.John Rawls - 1993 - Columbia University Press.
Leviathan.Thomas Hobbes - 1651 - Harmondsworth, Penguin.
A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition.John Rawls - 1999 - Harvard University Press.
Rescuing Justice and Equality.G. A. Cohen (ed.) - 2008 - Harvard University Press.

View all 30 references / Add more references

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations