A Theory of Justice

A Theory of Justice: Original Edition (Oxford Paperbacks 301 301) reissue Edition  Author by John Rawls

Series: Oxford Paperbacks 301 301

Paperback: 624 pages

Publisher: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press; reissue edition (March 31, 2005)

Language: English


Part One. Theory


1. The Role of Justice The Role of Justice
2. The Subject of Justice
3. The Main Idea of the Theory of Justice
4. The Original Position and Justification
5.Classical utilitarianism
6 Same Related Contrasts
7 Intuitionism
8. The Priority Problem
9. Some Remarks about moral theory


10.Institutions and Formal Justice

11. Two Principles of Justice

12. Interpretations of the Second Principle

13. Democratic Equality and the Difference Principle

14. Fair Equality of Opportunity and Pure Procedural Justice

15. Primary Social Goods as the Basis of Expectations

16 Relevant Social Positions

17. The Tendency to Equality

18. Principles for Individuals: The Principle of Fairness

19. Principles for Individuals: The Natural Duties


20. The Nature of the Argument for Conceptions of Justice

21 The Presentation of Alternatives

22.The Circumstances of Justice

23. The Formal Constraints of the Concept of Right

24. The Veil of Ignorance

25. The Rationality of the Parties

26. The Reasoning Leading to the Two Principles of Justice

27. The Reasoning Leading to the Principle of Average Utility

28. Some Difficulties with the Average Principle

29. Some Main Grounds for the Two Principles of Justice

30. Classical Utilitarianism, Impartiality, and Benevolence

Part Two. Institutions


31. The Four-Stage Sequence

32. The Concept of Liberty

33. Equal Liberty of Conscience

34 Toleration and the Common Interest

35 Toleration of the Intolerant

36 Political Justice and the constitutions

37. Limitations on the Principle of Participation

38 1R The Role Of-Law

39. The Priority of Liberty Defined

40. The Kantian Interpretation of Justice as Fairness



41. The Concept of Justice in Political Economy

42. Some Remarks about Economic Systems

43. Background Institutions for Distributive Justice

44 The Problem of Justice between Generations

45 Time Preference

46. Further Cases of Priority

47. The Precepts of Justice

48. Legitimate Expectations and Moral Desert

49. Comparison with Mixed Conceptions

50. The Principle of Perfection


51. The Arguments for the Principles of Natural Duty

52. The Arguments for the Principle of Fairness

53. The Duty To Comply with an Unjust Law

54. The Status of Majority Rule

55.The Definition of Civil Disobedience

56 The Definition of Conscientious Refusal

57. The Justification of Civil Disobedience

58. The Justification of Conscientious Refusal

59. The Role of Civil Disobedience

Part Three Ends


60. The Need for a Theory of the Good

61. The Definition of Good for Simpler Cases

62. A Note on Meaning

63. The Definition of Good for Plans of Life

64. Deliberative Rationality

65. The Aristotelian Principle

66. The Definition of Good Applied to Persons

67. Self-Respect, Excellencies, and Shame

68. Several Contrasts between the Right and the Good


69. The Concept of a Well-Ordered Society

70. The Morality of Authority

71. The Morality of Association

72. The Morality of Principles

73. Features of the Moral Sentiments

74 The Connection between Moral and Natural Attitudes

75. The Principles of Moral Psychology

76. The Problem of Relative Stability

77. The Basis of Equality


78. Autonomy and Objectivity

79. The idea of Social union

80. The Problem of Envy

81. Envy and Equality

82. The Grounds for the Priority of Liberty

83. Happiness and Dominant Ends

84 Hedonism as a Method of Choice

85. The Unity of the Self

86 The Good of the Sense of Justice

87. Concluding Remarks on Justification

First Chapter part ………

Justice as fairness

In this introductory chapter, I sketch some of the main ideas of the theory of justice I wish to develop. The exposition is informal and intended to prepare the way for the more detailed arguments that follow. Unavoidably there is some overlap between this and later discussions. I begin by describing the role of justice in social cooperation and with a brief account of the primary subject of justice, society’s basic structure. I then present the main idea of justice as fairness, a theory of justice that generalizes and carries to a higher level of abstraction the traditional conception of the social contract. The compact of society is replaced by an initial situation that incorporates certain procedural constraints on arguments designed to lead to an original agreement on justice principles. For purposes of clarification and contrast, I also take up the classical utilitarian and intuitionist conceptions of justice and consider some of the differences between these views and justice as fairness. My guiding aim is to work out a theory of justice that is a viable alternative to these doctrines, which have long dominated our philosophical tradition.


A Theory of Justice
A Theory of Justice

Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory, however elegant and economical, must be rejected or revised if it is untrue. Likewise, no matter how efficient and well-arranged, laws and institutions must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust. Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason, justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others. It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many. Therefore 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 the calculus of social interests. The only thing that permits us to acquiesce in an erroneous theory is the lack of a better one; analogously, an injustice is tolerable only when necessary to avoid an even greater injustice. Being the first virtues of human activities, truth, and justice are uncompromising.

These propositions seem to express our intuitive conviction of the primacy of justice. No doubt they are expressed too strongly. In any event, I wish to inquire whether these contentions or others similar to them are sound, and if so, how they can be accounted for. To this end, it is necessary to work out a theory of justice in the light of which these assertions can be interpreted and assessed. I shall begin by considering the role of the principles of justice. Let us assume, to fix ideas, that a society is a more or less self-sufficient association of persons who, in their relations to one another, recognize certain rules of conduct as binding and who, for the most part, act following them. Suppose further that these rules specify a co-operation system designed to advance the good of those taking part in it. Then, although society is a cooperative venture for mutual advantage, it is typically marked by a conflict and an identity of interests. There is an identity of interests since social cooperation makes a better life for all than any would have if each were to live solely by his own efforts. There is a conflict of interests since persons are not indifferent about how the greater benefits produced by their collaboration are distributed, for, to pursue their ends, they each prefer a larger to a lesser share. A set of principles is required for choosing among the various social arrangements that determine this division of advantages and underwriting an agreement on the proper distributive shares. These principles are the principles of social justice: they provide a way of assigning rights and duties in society’s basic institutions. They define the appropriate distribution of the benefits and burdens of social co-operation.

Now let us say that a society is well-ordered when it is designed to advance its members’ good but when it is also effectively regulated by a public conception of justice. It is a society in which (1) everyone accepts and knows that the others accept the same principles of justice, and (2) the basic social institutions generally satisfy and are generally known to satisfy these principles. In this case, while men may put forth excessive demands on one another, they nevertheless acknowledge a common point of view from which their claims may be adjudicated. If men’s inclination to self-interest makes their vigilance against one another necessary, their public sense of justice makes their secure association together possible. Among individuals with disparate aims and purposes, a shared conception of justice establishes the bonds of civic friendship; the general desire for justice limits other ends’ pursuit. One may think of a public conception of justice as constituting a well-ordered human association’s fundamental charter.

Of course, existing societies are seldom well-ordered in this sense, for what is just and unjust is usually in dispute. Men disagree about which principles should define the basic terms of their association. Yet, despite this disagreement, we may still say that they each have a conception of justice. They understand the need for, and they are prepared to affirm, a characteristic set of principles for assigning basic rights and duties and determining what they take to be the proper distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation. Thus, it seems natural to think of justice as distinct from the various conceptions of justice and as being specified by the role these different sets of principles, these different conceptions, have in common. Those who hold different conceptions of justice can then agree that institutions are just when no arbitrary distinctions are made between persons in the assign:- g of basic rights and duties and when the rules determine a proper balance between competing claims to the advantages of social life. Men can agree to this description of just institutions since the notions of an arbitrary distinction and a proper balance included in the concept of justice are left open for each to interpret according to the principles of justice that he accepts. These principles single out which similarities and differences among persons are relevant in determining rights and duties, and they specify which division of advantages is appropriate. Clearly, this distinction between the concept and the various conceptions of justice settles no important questions. It simply helps to identify the role of the principles of social justice. However, some measure of agreement in conceptions of justice is not the only prerequisite for a viable human community. There are other fundamental social problems, in particular those of coordination, efficiency, and stability. Thus, individuals’ plans need to be fitted together so that their activities are compatible with one another. They can all be carried through without anyone’s legitimate expectations being severely disappointed. Moreover, the execution of these plans should lead to the achievement of social ends in ways that are efficient and consistent with justice, And finally, the scheme of social cooperation must be stable: it must be more or less regularly complied with and its basic rules willingly acted upon; and when infractions occur, stabilizing forces should exist that prevent further violations and tend to restore the arrangement.

Now it is evident that these three problems are connected with that of justice. In the absence of a certain measure of agreement on what is just and unjust, it is clearly more difficult for individuals to coordinate their plans efficiently to ensure mutually beneficial arrangements are maintained. Distrust and resentment corrode civility ties, and suspicion and hostility tempt men to act in ways they would otherwise avoid. So while the distinctive role of conceptions of justice is to specify basic rights and duties and determine the appropriate distributive shares, how a conception does this is bound to affect the problems of efficiency, coordination, and stability. In general, we cannot assess a conception of justice by its distributive role alone; however, this role may be useful in identifying the concept of justice. We must take into account its wider connections, for even though justice has a certain priority, being the most important virtue of institutions, it is still true that other things equal, one conception of justice is preferable to another when its broader consequences are more desirable.


Many different kinds of things are said to be just and unjust: not only laws, institutions, and social systems, but also particular actions of many kinds, including decisions, judgments, and imputations. We also call the attitudes and dispositions of persons, and person them-selves, just and unjust. Our topic, however, is that of social justice. For us, the primary subject of justice is society’s basic structure, or more exactly, how the major social institutions distribute fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages from social cooperation. By major institutions, I understand the political constitution and the principal economic and social arrangements.

Thus the legal protection of freedom of thought and liberty of conscience, competitive markets, private property in the means of production, and the monogamous family are examples of major social institutions. Taken together as one scheme, the major institutions define men’s rights and duties and influence their life-prospects, what they can expect to be, and how well they can hope to do. The basic structure is the primary subject of justice because its effects are so profound and present from the start. The intuitive notion here is that this structure contains various social positions and that men born into different positions have different expectations of life determined, in part, by the political system as well as by economic and social circumstances.

In this way, the institutions of society favor certain starting places over others. These are profound inequalities. Not only are they pervasive, but they affect men’s initial chances in life, yet they cannot possibly be justified by an appeal to the notions of merit or desert. It is these inequalities, presumably inevitable in the basic structure of any society, to which the principles of social justice must, in the first instance, apply. These principles, then, regulate the choice of a political constitution and the main elements of the economic and social system. The justice of a social scheme depends essentially on how fundamental rights and duties are assigned and on the economic opportunities and social conditions in the various sectors of society.

The scope of our inquiry is limited in two ways. First of all, I am concerned with a special case of the problem of justice. I shall not consider the justice of institutions and social practices generally, except in passing the law of nations and relations between states ( page 58). Therefore, if one supposes that the concept of justice applies whenever there is an allotment of something rationally regarded as advantageous or disadvantageous, then we are interested in only one instance of its application. There is no reason to suppose ahead of time that the principles satisfactory for the basic structure hold for all cases.

These principles may not work for private associations’ rules and practices or those of less comprehensive social groups. They may be irrelevant for the various in-formal conventions and customs of everyday life; they may not elucidate the justice, or perhaps better, the fairness of voluntary cooperative arrangements or procedures for making contractual agreements. The conditions for the law of nations may require different principles arrived at in a somewhat different way. I shall be satisfied if it is possible to formulate a reasonable conception of justice for society’s basic structure conceived for the time being as a closed system isolated from other societies.

The significance of this special case is obvious and needs no explanation. It is natural to conjecture that once we have a sound theory for this case, the remaining problems of justice will prove more tractable in the light of it. With suitable modifications, such a theory should provide the key for some of these other questions. The other limitation of our discussion is that, for the most part, I examine the principles of justice that would regulate a well-ordered society. Everyone is presumed to act justly and to do his part in up-holding just institutions. Though justice maybe, as Hume remarked, the cautious, jealous virtue, we can still ask what a perfectly just society would be like.

Thus I consider primarily what I call strict compliance instead of partial compliance theory ( page 25, 39). The latter studies the principles that govern how we are to deal with injustice. It comprises such topics as the theory of punishment, the doctrine of just war, and the justification of the various ways of opposing unjust regimes, ranging from civil disobedience and militant resistance to revolution and rebellion. Also included here are questions of compensatory justice and weighing one form of institutional injustice against another—obviously, the problems of partial.

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