The Rawls–Harsanyi Dispute: A Moral Point of View

Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 99 (1):82-99 (2018)
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Central to the Rawls–Harsanyi dispute is the question of whether the core modeling device of Rawls' theory of justice, the original position, justifies Rawls' principles of justice, as Rawls suggests, or whether it justifies the average utility principle, as Harsanyi suggests. Many commentators agree with Harsanyi and consider this dispute to be primarily about the correct application of normative decision theory to Rawls' original position. I argue that, if adequately conceived, the Rawls–Harsanyi dispute is not primarily a dispute about the correct application of normative decision theory to Rawls' original position. Instead, Rawls and Harsanyi aim to model different moral ideals, and this difference in their moral assumptions leads them to significantly different conclusions about justice. There is no winner in the Rawls–Harsanyi dispute. Instead, the dispute merely clarifies the moral ideals and their formal representations that need to be assumed in order to justify either Rawls' contractualist principles of justice or the average utility principle. Thus understood, the Rawls–Harsanyi dispute offers a promising starting point for future research that can deepen and enrich our understanding of the demands of justice.



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Michael Moehler
Virginia Tech

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On What Matters: Two-Volume Set.Derek Parfit - 2011 - New York: Oxford University Press.
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Rawls.Samuel Richard Freeman - 2007 - New York: Routledge.

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