The Cambridge Companion to Rawls

The Cambridge Companion to Rawls

The Cambridge Companion to Rawls

The Cambridge Companion to Rawls

Synopsis

John Rawls is the most significant and influential moral philosopher of the twentieth century. His work has profoundly affected contemporary discussions of social, political and economic justice in philosophy, law, political science, economics and other social disciplines. In this collection of new essays, many of the world's leading political and moral theorists discuss the full range of Rawls's contribution to the concepts of political and economic justice, democracy, liberalism, constitutionalism and international justice.

Excerpt

John Rawls's published works extend over fifty years from the middle of the twentieth century to the present. During this period his writings have come to define a substantial portion of the agenda for Anglo–American political philosophy, and they increasingly influence political philosophy in the rest of the world. His primary work, A Theory of Justice (TJ), has been translated into twenty-seven languages. Only ten years after Theory was published, a bibliography of articles on Rawls listed more than 2,500 entries. This extensive commentary indicates the widespread influence of Rawls's ideas as well as the intellectual controversy his ideas stimulate.

From the outset Rawls's work has been guided by the question, “What is the most appropriate moral conception of justice for a democratic society?” (TJ, p. viii/xiii rev.). In Theory he pursued this question as part of a more general inquiry into the nature of social justice and its compatibility with human nature and a person's good. Here Rawls aimed to redress the predominance of utilitarianism in modern moral philosophy. As an alternative to utilitarianism, Rawls, drawing on the social contract tradition, developed a conception of justice “that is highly Kantian in nature” (TJ, p. viii/xviii rev.). According to this conception, justice generally requires that basic social goods – liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the bases of self-respect – be equally distributed, unless an unequal distribution is to everyone's advantage (TJ, p. 62/54 rev.). But under favorable social conditions a special conception, “justice as fairness, ” applies; it requires giving priority to certain liberties and opportunities via the institutions of a liberal constitutional democracy. Rawls's two . . .

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