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Jeremy Waldron on Rawls - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 93
Rawls/Waldron: When it was first published in 1971, John Rawls’s book A Theory of Justice seemed to present itself as a set of more or less universal claims: it was supposed to tell us what justice was and what it required in any society which faced what Rawls called ‘the circumstances of justice’ – moderate scarcity, mutual disinterest of individuals in one another’s ends, and so on (1971(1): 126). Under these circumstances, Rawls seemed to be implying, it was appropriate for people to use the idea of the ‘Original Position’ – decision behind a ‘veil of ignorance’ – as a way of figuring out appropriate principles of justice. And he argued that anyone selecting principles from that perspective would adopt strong principles of equal basic liberty, equal opportunity, and a social framework oriented to the well-being of members of the worst-off group. He seemed prepared to argue for these conclusions and defend them against rival conceptions (like Nozick, 1974)(2) as a conception which could command the support of anyone interested in the subject.
Later development: Through the 1980s, however, Rawls began to offer a more modest characterization than he had in 1971: „(...) what justifies a conception of justice is not its being true to an order antecedent to and given to us, but its congruence with our deeper understanding of ourselves and our aspirations, and our realization that, given our history and the traditions embedded in our public life, it is the most reasonable doctrine for us. (1980(3): 518–19)
>Society/Walzer, >Universalism/Rawls, >Individualism/Rawls, >Justice/Rawls.


1. Rawls, John (1971) A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
2. Nozick, Robert (1974) Anarchy, State and Utopia Oxford: Blackwell.
3. Rawls, John (1980) ‘Kantian constructivism in moral theory’. Journal of Philosophy, 77 (9): 515–72.


Waldron, Jeremy 2004. „Liberalism, Political and Comprehensive“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Waldron, Jeremy
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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