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Rethinking Political Thinkers

Rethinking Political Thinkers (1st edn)

Manjeet Ramgotra and Simon Choat
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date: 07 December 2023

32. John Rawlslocked

32. John Rawlslocked

  • Maeve Mckeown


This chapter examines the significance of A Theory of Justice (1971) written by John Rawls in contemporary Anglo-American political philosophy. It examines the basic contours of Rawls’ theory and addresses the Rawlsian self in what he calls ‘the original position’. Feminists and critical race theorists disagree over the potential of self that Rawls proposed to generate a non-sexist, anti-racist society, and philosophers of disability highlight its ableist assumptions. The chapter looks at the idea of a Rawlsian society being governed by a ‘just basic structure’. It highlights three issues: (1) the ambiguity of the concept of a basic structure separate from individual behaviour and other institutions; (2) the concern that focusing on the basic structure fails to address power relations between groups; and (3) that it limits the scope of justice to the nation state. While acknowledging the profound contributions of Rawls, the chapter concludes that Rawlsian ideal theory is not the best approach from the perspective of feminist, anti-racist, and anti-ableist philosophy.

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