Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.



Rawls, John (1921–2002)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S091-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Rawls’ main work, A Theory of Justice (1971), presents a liberal, egalitarian, moral conception – ‘justice as fairness’ – designed to explicate and justify the institutions of a constitutional democracy. The two principles of justice outlined in this text affirm the priority of equal basic liberties over other political concerns, and require fair opportunities for all citizens, directing that inequalities in wealth and social positions maximally benefit the least advantaged. Rawls develops the idea of an impartial social contract to justify these principles: Free persons, equally situated and ignorant of their historical circumstances, would rationally agree to them in order to secure their equal status and independence, and to pursue freely their conceptions of the good.

In Political Liberalism (1993), his other major text, Rawls revises his original argument for justice as fairness to make it more compatible with the pluralism of liberalism. He argues that, assuming that different philosophical, religious and ethical views are inevitable in liberal society, the most reasonable basis for social unity is a public conception of justice based in shared moral ideas, including citizens’ common comception of themselves as free and equal moral persons. The stability of this public conception of justice is provided by an overlapping consensus; all the reasonable comprehensible philosophical, religious and ethical views can endorse it, each for their own specific reasons.

Citing this article:
Freeman, Samuel. Rawls, John (1921–2002), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S091-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Searches


Related Articles