Justice and the Social Contract: Essays on Rawlsian Political Philosophy

Justice and the Social Contract: Essays on Rawlsian Political Philosophy

Justice and the Social Contract: Essays on Rawlsian Political Philosophy

Justice and the Social Contract: Essays on Rawlsian Political Philosophy

Excerpt

John Rawls is widely recognized as the most significant and influential political philosopher of the twentieth century. His main influence lies in two separate works, A Theory of Justice (1971) and Political Liberalism (1993). Rawls revised his account of justice considerably in the twenty-two years intervening between these books, but there is a good deal of disagreement and confusion about how his views about justice changed. Some suggest that Rawls became more conservative, that he abandoned the difference principle, or that he altogether gave up on the idea of the original position and his social contractarianism. Others contend that in Political Liberalism, Rawls changed his thinking as a response to communitarian criticisms, or that he was primarily motivated to accommodate religion. In this book, I argue that all these claims are mistaken. There are powerful interconnections between A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism that have not been sufficiently acknowledged in the literature. If one understands these connections, then one can better understand Rawls's project not only in Political Liberalism but also in A Theory of Justice. In this brief introduction, I provide the intellectual context for the chapters that follow, first by discussing the background to Rawls's transition to the doctrine of political liberalism and its basis in his social contractarianism, and then by foreshadowing the arguments of each chapter.

I. Rawls's Contractarianism and the Stability of a
Well-Ordered Society

Rawls's aim in A Theory of Justice is to develop a theory of justice from the idea of a social contract found in Locke, Rousseau, and Kant. He seeks to present

1. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971; rev. ed.,
1999) (cited in text as TJ; sometimes referred to as Theory); Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1993; paperback edition, 1996, 2004) (cited in the text as PL; references are to the
paperback edition).

2. Rawls, Collected Papers, ed. Samuel Freeman (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
1999), 614 (cited in text as CP).

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