Rawls' Theory of Justice

Thomas M. Scanlon
1973 University of Pennsylvania law review  
Rawls' book is a comprehensive and systematic presentation of a particular ideal of social life. The aim of the book is to analyze this ideal in a way that allows us to see clearly how it differs from prominent alternatives and on what grounds it may be preferred to them. In carrying out this analysis Rawls presents and draws upon not only a theory of distributive justice and a theory of political rights, but also a theory of value, a theory of obligation and a theory of moral psychology.
more » ... porary political philosophy has already been altered by Rawls' book, but the leading ideas of his theory are in a number of respects familiar ones. They are familiar within the philosophical community since they have been set forth by Rawls in a series of important and influential articles over the course of the last fifteen years.' Rawls has altered and clarified important points in his argument since these articles first appeared, and the book presents a large amount of new material, but the main thrust of Rawls' theory can be seen in these shorter works. The idea of Rawls' book will also seem familiar to many who have not read his articles, for the ideal of social life he describes is one that lies at the heart of liberal political theory, and the principles and policies which this ideal supports are, in general, ones that liberals have traditionally supported. Finally, the central analytical device in Rawls' argument is a variant of the familiar idea of a social contract. Such a contract is perhaps most often thought of in connection with accounts of the origins of political authority. While Rawls does give an account of political obligation (one which does not require actual consent) his use of the idea of accepting institutions in an initial contractual situation is not confined to this purpose but serves more broadly as the basis for critical appraisal of economic, t Associate Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University. A.B. Princeton University, 1962; Ph.D. Harvard University, 1968.
doi:10.2307/3311280 fatcat:emduwr7tsfecpmvtizf4qkhpw4