How Egalitarian is Rawls's Theory of Justice?

Ian Hunt

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)


    Gerald Cohen's critique of John Rawls's theory of justice is that it is concerned only with the justice of social institutions, and must thus arbitrarily draw a line between those inequalities excluded and those allowed by the basic structure. Cohen claims that a proper concern with the interests of the least advantaged would rule out 'incentives' for 'talented' individuals. I argue that Rawls's assumption that the subject of justice is the basic structure of society does not arbitrarily restrict the concerns of political justice, as Cohen claims. Further, I argue that it does not allow 'deep' inequalities within a just basic structure. When properly understood, Rawls's theory of justice is strongly egalitarian, taken as a theory of fairness in the way the burdens and benefits of social cooperation are distributed, even if it is not as egalitarian as Cohen wishes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)155-181
    Number of pages27
    JournalPhilosophical Papers
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010


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