- Series: Belknap
- Paperback: 560 pages
- Publisher: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press; 2 edition (September 30, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674000781
- ISBN-13: 978-0674000780
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 99 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Theory of Justice 2nd Edition
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I don’t know of a more lucid articulation of the intuitions many of us share about what is just. (Scott Turow New York Times Book Review 2013-10-10)
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's Theory of Justice is widely and justly regarded as this century's most important work of political philosophy. Originally published in 1971, it quickly became the subject of extensive commentary and criticism, which led Rawls to revise some of the arguments he had originally put forward in this work...This edition will certainly become the definitive one; all scholars will use it, and it will be an essential text for any academic library. It contains a new preface that helpfully outlines the major revisions, and a 'conversion table' that correlates the pagination of this edition with the original, which will be useful to students and scholars working with this edition and the extensive secondary literature on Rawls's work. Highly recommended. (J. D. Moon Choice)
[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)
With the simple carpentry of its arguments, its egalitarian leanings, and its preoccupation with fairness, Rawls's classic 1971 work, A Theory of Justice, is as American a book as, say, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (Will Blythe Civilization)
From the Back Cover
"Each person" writes John Rawls, "possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. Therefore in a just society the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests".
In this book Mr. Rawls attempts to account for these propositions, which he believes express our intuitive convictions of the primacy of justice. The principles of justice he sets forth are those that free and rational persons would accept in an initial position of equality. In this hypothetical situation, which corresponds to the state of nature in social contract theory, no one knows his or her place in society; his or her class position or social status; his or her fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities; his or her intelligence, strength, and the like; or even his or her conception of the good. Thus, deliberating behind a veil of ignorance, people determine their rights and duties. The first, theoretical, section of the book addresses objections to the theory and alternative positions, especially utilitarianism. The author then applies his theory to the philosophical basis of the constitutional liberties, the problem of distributive justice, and the definition of the ground and limits of political duty and obligation. He includes here discussion of the issues of civil disobedience and conscientious objection. Finally, he connects the theory of justice with a doctrine of the good and of moral development. This enables him to formulate a conception of society as a social union of social unions and to use the theory of justice to explain the values of community.
Since the appearance ofthe book in 1971, A Theory of Justice has been translated into 23 languages. Revisions to the original English text have been included in translations since 1975. This new English edition incorporates all those revisions, which the author considers to be significant improvements, especially to the discussions of liberty and primary goods. The Preface for the Revised Edition discusses the revisions in some detail.
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"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. However, if you take away some of his assumptions then, by his own account, society will become less stable and revert towards injustice. In many instances it would be just as easy to assume unstable behavior as stable behavior. Once this becomes apparent his system of justice fails and is no longer applicable. This is a matter of empirical debate.
My second objection is the applicability of Rawls' social contract. Even if he is correct, there are vested interests who do not want a just society. As long as they control power over society they will not allow just institutions to be created. Rawls has no immediate answer for this problem and rather relies on hypotheticals to provide the legitimacy of his social contract. Without abrupt change I cannot see how his theory of justice will come into practice. Utilitarianism and Welfare Economics, even if unjust, will remain the predominant philosophical beliefs of society and institutions.
Rawls is hard to categorize, because his notion of "veil of ignorance" allows him to synthesize thoughts from almost all three of these schools. True, at first he seems closest to Kant, who says "Hey you, act such that you would not mind if your way of acting were to become the universal way of acting for everyone. Rawl, kind of, adds that acting in this manner is justifiable especially if you assume you never know what side of social justice you might end up at -- the receiving end or the giving one. So it is only rational to act in such a manner that it would not matter to you where you'd end up. As such, he is somewhat of a kindred soul to Utilitarianism as well, because such calculations of give-and-take smack of bean counting in a sense. And of course, it is a symptom of Aristotelianism to be "groping you way around" in dealing with complex moral choices that resist easy classification.
Overall, Rawls achieves a very powerful (and influential) synthesis. I don't buy all of his arguments, but they demand respect regardless of your stance. One criticism I have is his style of writing. It is verbose. And example from page 471: "These individuals display skills and abilities, and virtues of character and temperament, that attract our fancy and arouse in us the desire that we should be like them, and able to do the same things." Would it not be more respectful towards the reader's time to say something like this instead "They inspire us to emulate them"? I think all of his arguments could have been just as effectively made in a book one third of the size of this one.
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Rawls developed two basic ideas, the ‘original position’ a social contract theory like that of John Jacque Rousseau in ‘On Social Contract’ (1762)...Read more