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A Theory of Justice Paperback – February, 1971

ISBN-13: 978-0674880146 ISBN-10: 0674880145 Edition: 16th Edition

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Review

In his magisterial new work...John Rawls draws on the most subtle techniques of contemporary analytic philosophy to provide the social contract tradition with what is, from a philosophical point of view at least, the most formidable defense it has yet received...[and] makes available the powerful intellectual resources and the comprehensive approach that have so far eluded antiutilitarians. He also makes clear how wrong it was to claim, as so many were claiming only a few years back, that systematic moral and political philosophy are dead...Whatever else may be true it is surely true that we must develop a sterner and more fastidious sense of justice. In making his peerless contribution to political theory, John Rawls has made a unique contribution to this urgent task. No higher achievement is open to a scholar. (Marshall Cohen New York Times Book Review)

[Rawls] has elucidated a conception of justice which goes beyond anything to be found in Kant or Rousseau. It is a convincing refutation, if one is needed, of any lingering suspicions that the tradition of English-speaking political philosophy might be dead. Indeed, his book might plausibly be claimed to be the most notable contribution to that tradition to have been published since Sidgwick and Mill. (Times Literary Supplement)

Enlightenment comes in various forms, sometimes even by means of books. And it is a pleasure to recommend...an indigenous American philosophical masterpiece of the first order...I mean...to press my recommendation of [this book] to non-philosophers, especially those holding positions of responsibility in law and government. For the topic with which it deals is central to this country's purposes, and the misunderstanding of that topic is central to its difficulties...And the central idea is simple, elegant, plausible, and easily applied by anybody at any time as a measure of the justice of his own actions. (Peter Caws New Republic)

The most substantial and interesting contribution to moral philosophy since the war. (Stuart Hampshire New York Review of Books)

A rich, complicated, and fundamental work...Rawls possesses a deep sense of the multiple connections between social institutions and individual psychology. Without illusion he describes a pluralistic social order that will call forth the support of free men and evoke what is best in them. To have made such a vision precise, alive, and convincing is a memorable achievement. (Thomas Nagel Philosophical Review)

About the Author

John Rawls was James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University. He was recipient of the 1999 National Humanities Medal.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 607 pages
  • Publisher: The Belknap Press; 16th Edition edition (February 1971)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674880145
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674880146
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,360,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Rawls was James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University. He was recipient of the 1999 National Humanities Medal.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Joe J. Kern on November 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
Rawls significantly revised his book after its initial publication, clarifying points and answering criticisms, and he considers the Revised Edition to be the definitive version. But the Original Edition is what comes up in Amazon searches, with no indication that there even is a revised edition, so use the ISBN to do your search to find it:

0-674-00078-1

or

9780674000780

In the introduction, the publishers of the reprinted Original Edition said they wanted it to remain in print mainly for Rawls scholars, to trace his thought.

Rawls says in his introduction to the 1999 publication of the Revised Edition, "This revised text includes what I believe are significant improvements...(and is) superior to the original."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on April 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover
John Bordley Rawls (1921-2002) was a professor at Harvard University, and also wrote books such as Political Liberalism: Expanded Edition (Columbia Classics in Philosophy), Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy, etc.

He wrote in the Preface to this 1971 book, "Perhaps I can best explain my aim in this book as follows: During much of modern moral philosophy the predominant systematic theory has been some form of utilitarianism... What I have attempted to do is to generalize and carry to a higher order of abstraction the traditional theory of the social contract... My ambitions for the book will be completely realized is it enables one to see more clearly the chief structural features of the alternative conception of justice that is implicit in the contract tradition and points the way to its further elaboration."

He begins by stating that "in a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests... an injustice is tolerable only when it is necessary to avoid an even greater injustice." (Pg. 4) He adds that in a well-ordered society (1) everyone accepts the same principles of justice, and (2) the basic social institutions satisfy these principles. (Pg. 5) His major idea is that the principles of justice are the object of the original social contract or agreement; "This way of regarding the principles of justice I shall call justice as fairness." (Pg.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Seth Oldmixon on October 13, 2006
Format: Paperback
A Theory of Justice is surprisingly accessible, even to those of us without extensive training in philosophy. Rawls briefly examines two of the most influential Western liberal philosophers (Locke and Mill), and then proceeds to construct his own Theory which builds on Locke and Mill while solving for some of the deficiences in each.

As Rawls admitted, the gist of his Theory can be gleaned from the first part of the book, though the book reads easily enough that one should be able to get through the whole thing fairly quickly.

I highly recommend this book to those who think of philosophy as convoluted jargon written long ago by men in powdered wigs and robes, as well as to those who are unsure of the philosophical basis for much modern liberal political thought. A remarkably accessible and important development in liberal thought.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A4WES on February 15, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
You cannot understand contemporary political theory without knowing about Rawls's theory of justice ("justice as fairness"). While it is important to know the changes Rawls made in POLITICAL LIBERALISM, this book is still essential for understanding many components of his theory.
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45 of 63 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 25, 1998
Format: Paperback
Rawls exposition is clear; He defines Justice as the first virtue of society, and then defines Justice as Fairness, and proceeds from there to a description of a set of formally fair procedures for constructing a just society. Chief among those is his doctrine of "The Original Position", i.e. the situation in which a person takes no thought for personal advantage, including one's own in-born abilities, and then attempts to construct an ethical framework to guide the constitution of society. Although the work is vague, it is because he necessarily works at a very high level of abstraction. I also believe his work is -wrong- (because I think valuing human life is the first virtue of human society, not justice), but it is the clearest description of Kantian analytic social theory ever presented. As such, if it -is- wrong, it is because analytic social theories are wrong as a class, not because Rawls made mistakes. A very good book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rufus Burgess on January 16, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"A Theory of Justice" is John Rawl's interpretation of the social contract theory. In determining "justice" Rawls uses the social contract theory, utilitarianism, theological explanations, and other interpretations. By using a "veil of ignorance" and a rational person standard he devises two principles of justice.

"First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.
Second: social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone's advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all."

At first, these principles seem outlandish. However, using a rational actor, the laws are logically sound. First, Rawls uses economics, specifically game theory, to determine the actions of a hypothetical group of rational actors. Second, he describes how institutions are used to promulgate a just society. Third, he describes why individuals will rationally submit to justice.

A common misconception is that Rawls does not understand economic theory. That's completely false. Rawls has an immaculate understanding of economic theory. I was very surprised to see how much economics Rawls uses in determining justice. However, he disagrees with the underlying tenets of utilitarianism and Institutionism (Welfare Economics). Therefore, because he does not agree with the tenets of welfare economics, his results are different than mainstream economists.

My most significant objection to "A Theory of Justice" is Rawls' tenuous assumptions. Assuming his outlook on rational actors, his theory is logically sound and will result in the most just society.
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