Talk:A Theory of Justice

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Original Principles[edit]

I'm reading/researching Rawls at the moment, and I must say that some of this article while generally fair is technically somewhat sloppy. For example, in as much as the sentence "Rawls specifically excludes Freedom of Contract" is taken to imply that Rawls said "...and, by the way, freedom of contract isn't counted as an inalienable natural right", or some such thing - and that's how I read it - it's simply not true. Freedom of Contract doesn't (to my eyes - prepared to stand corrected) get any mention at all, so I suppose is "specifically excluded" in that it isn't specifically included. Whether this is what Rawls meant to say is the subject of some debate - see Horacio Spector's "A contractarian approach to unconscionability", note 56, which cites some of the academic literature on this point. I have basically deleted the oringal summary and replaced it with an extract from Rawls' actual book, which has the benefit of being not only more accurate, but shorter! ElectricRay 23:11, 13 October 2005 (UTC)

In the chapter "Two Principles of Justice," he writes, "Of course, liberties not on the list, for example, the right to own certain kinds of property (e.g.) means of production) and freedom of contract as understood by the doctrine of laissez-faire are not basic; and so they are not protected by the priority of the first principle." It seems clear to me that he is specifically excluding freedom of contract.--Blackmagicfish (talk) 22:59, 23 June 2008 (UTC)
I agree - Rawls clearly excludes it from the list of liberties he thinks would be enacted as a result of of his argument. It's wrong to say "It is a matter of some debate whether freedom of contract can be inferred to be included among these basic liberties", especially without sourcing it. I'm removing it. Aquamonkey (talk) 14:15, 10 December 2009 (UTC)

Personal Interests or Personal Circumstances?[edit]

I would like to consider proposing an edit to the statement that Rawls' veil of ignorance was intended to eluicidate a "judgment [that] would not be clouded by knowledge of our own personal interests."

The way I read this was that Rawls was trying to excise personal interests from the consideration of people when attempting to formulate the principles of justice in a fair community. This is contradictory with settled economic theory and, indeed, the idea of democracy - which assumes you should be allowed to vote entirely based on your personal interests), and I don't think Rawls' philosophy intended to make that claim.

Consider this from P 11 from A Theory of Justice:

They are the principles that rational and free persons concerned to further their own interests would accept in an initial position of equality as defining the fundamentals of the terms of their association. These principles are to regulate all further agreements; they specify the kinds of social co-operation that can be entered into and the forms of government that can be established. This way of regarding the principles of justice I shall call fairness.

Rawls clearly contemplates they should be based on a concept of self interest, but that personal circumstances would not be known, rather than personal interests. This might seem like a finnicky point - but I was led by the Wikipedia article to completely misunderstand Rawls' position based on it.

I have made the edit; just wanted to explain my reasons. ElectricRay 22:42, 12 October 2005 (UTC)

This is another far-too-late response, but no, Rawls does indeed mean the veil of ignorance to exclude knowledge of personal interests as well as personal circumstances. For Rawls, everyone has a conception of the good - a rational plan of how her life would go best. But the decision in the original position is made in ignorance of what exactly my conception of the good is: I know I have one, and therefore that I have some personal interests; but I don't know what they are. That's why the goods to be distributed by whatever system of justice is chosen are primary goods: all-purpose means which will help achieve any conception of the good. Cheers, Sam Clark 18:25, 26 November 2006 (UTC)

1999 revision[edit]

I never heard that the book was revised in 1999. Anyone able to support this claim or deliver sources? And I'd be highly interested in what the changes were. --denny vrandečić 16:42, Mar 23, 2004 (UTC)

Amazon have the edition I assume is being referred to:[[1]], published (in paperback) in 1999, which says revised edition on the cover. As for what was changed, I have no idea, although the amazon description says " The author has now revised the original edition to clear up a number of difficulties he and others have found in the original book..".Silverfish 17:03, 23 Mar 2004 (UTC)
I just wonder, if the 1999 edition is actually the 1975 revised edition, because I don't know if the 1975 changes were ever introduced in the english text or if they were only part of the translations - that is, was there a 1975 revised english edition actually? Or is the 1999 edition a second revision? I looked at Amazons description and didn't get any wiser on this. But thanks for the info. --denny vrandečić 20:59, Mar 24, 2004 (UTC)
The 1999 version is a fully revised 2nd edition, incorporating but going beyond the 1975 revisions. Cheers, Sam Clark 19:33, 21 November 2006 (UTC)

2 paras cut from 'Original Position'[edit]

I cut two paragraphs, as they just don't seem to flow with the rest of the article, or be as well written, or even make much sense. Please feel free to reinsert them if you don't agree: -- Nickj 05:07, 2 Nov 2004 (UTC)

One major problem for Rawls' criticisms of the utilitarians can be formulated as follows. Rawls' main criticism of the utilitarian is that the theory is focused on the concept of the 'impartial observer'. However, his theory on 'justice as fairness', is itself based on a very similar notion. Justice as fairness derives its own justification from the 'veil of ignorance' which, through its impartiality will safeguard the standard of moral decision making.

However, it can be argued that the utilitarian stance is in a better position than Rawls' criticism of it for the following reason: Rawls seeks to ground his theory of justice in an altogether abstract model of impartiality, to safeguard his justifications and the 'fairness' of his theory. Utilitarianism seeks to ground its impartiality within the system in the actual contingent application of the theory; working from this to the more abstract concepts of 'moral utility', dispositionalism, and concepts of desire and preferences. Therefore, far from achieving its desired result, Rawls' criticism of utilitarianism seems only to make utilitarianism more, rather than less plausible.

Utilitarianism[edit]

Not a big deal but I changed the last line in the 2nd Prinicple for accuracy. It now reads,"Rawls does not justify the suffering some people for the greater benefit of others (something many versions of utilitarianism seem to validate)." Rule Utilitarianism would seem to mostly avoid the problem and there are other more nuanced versions which would at the very least leave it an open question.--Jsn4 04:42, 29 October 2005 (UTC)

Focus on Utilitarianism[edit]

I think the focus on utilitarianism in this piece is in general misplaced. Although Rawls does provide to my mind fairly conclusive arguments against utilitarianism, I don't think that's either his main purpose or the most interesting thing about theory of justice. Bearing in mind his earlier work on political obligation, it seems to me the main task of theory is to give an account of how it is that the restrictions on freedom which any state or society implies are justified. The original position and the principles derived from it, if they are compelling, are compelling because they show that we would rationally accept particular rules governing the distribution of the benefits of social cooperation absent any distribution of those benefits at all, and so in effect absent any coercion. We would freely agree to Rawls' society: that's what matters, I think. Because of this, I'd like to alter the article, so as to remove the emphasis on utilitarianism as philosophical motivation. I'll probably do this piecemeal over the next week or so, so if anyone has any objections, could they say so fairly sharpish. RobJubb 16:21, 31 October 2005 (UTC).

Second principle[edit]

uhh someone has swapped a. and b. of the second principle for some reason and has failed to sawp the explanation below.

Yeah, I did, when I re-wrote the whole thing last winter, because that's the way round they're supposed to be. The difference principle should b) of the second principle, and, also, at some point, someone's removed the bit saying that a) - fair equality of opportunity - is lexically priorRobJubb 23:54, 23 August 2006 (UTC)

I'm late to this, and in any case it's been put back, but (a) difference principle and then (b) fair equality of opportunity is the way round Rawls puts them, despite the lexical priority of (b) over (a). Cheers, Sam Clark 19:29, 21 November 2006 (UTC)


- It hasn't been corrected yet. Whatever their order, equality of opportunity comes before the difference principle lexically. --Maxcanada (talk) 23:11, 25 December 2008 (UTC)

Rawls' project[edit]

Hi. This:

Rawls' primary objective in A Theory of Justice is to provide a solution to the problem of political obligation...

seems to me to be pretty clearly mistaken. Rawls says next to nothing about political obligation in A Theory of Justice: the closest he comes is a brief discussion of civil disobedience, and the few index entries to 'political obligation' mostly lead to discussions of the obligations of people who hold political office, not of citizens in general. Rawls' project is to work out what justice requires in the organisation of society (rough answer: fair distribution of primary goods), not to explain why we should obey authority. I'd like to change the article to reflect this, but I'd like some input here first. Cheers, Sam Clark 16:34, 21 November 2006 (UTC)

I believe there should be some mention on his beliefs about civil disobedience. To "work out what justice requires in the organisation of society" as you say, wouldn't there need to be a sense of moral responsibilty to obey the law? Hence, wouldn't there need to be a universal repect for society's law? Rawls' Theory of Fair Play would mean we should obey authority in order to allow a "fair distribution of primary goods". Do you see what i mean? 82.18.226.22 14:43, 14 June 2007 (UTC)


I've fixed up this short opening passage to be truer to what Rawls says about his theory in ToJ - the problem of obligation, and of justification, rises to prominence in Political Liberalism, but I don't think it's right to describe the central concern of ToJ as being about political obligation. Lorenking (talk) 19:06, 20 December 2007 (UTC)

First principle[edit]

I was just wondering whether the first principle should be taken from p.266 of the revised edition, considering that on p53, where the current wording in this article is taken from, says "the final version of the two principles is given in sec46...".

I'm not a Rawls expert, so I'm not going to change this myself. But maybe someone can change the wording of the first principle to read: "Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all" (p266, revised edition).

(Sometimesthinking 13:44, 23 October 2007 (UTC))

remove "Secondary Sources" warning?[edit]

The Wikipedia "sources warning" appears at the start of this entry: "This article needs references that appear in reliable third-party publications. Primary sources or sources affiliated with the subject are generally not sufficient for a Wikipedia article. Please add more appropriate citations from reliable sources. (January 2008)"

... but this doesn't seem justified by either the subject matter, or the present state of the article.

First, the criticisms and clarifications discussed in the article are now all appropriately sourced (I've just inserted some additional reference information for several of these); and

Second, the restriction on primary sources and "sources affiliated with the subject" seems a bit odd when (i) the primary source in question is the book that the article is about, and when the referenced articles are either (ii) the author's own elaborations and responses to criticisms, or (iii) the major published works that are either critical of the author's approach, or that make constructive contributions to the author's research programme.

Can we go ahead and remove the sources warning now? Thoughts? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Lorenking (talkcontribs) 15:18, 9 March 2009 (UTC)