Cover page

Table of Contents

Blackwell Companions to Philosophy

Title page

Copyright page

Notes on Contributors


Part I: Ambitions

1: From Philosophical Theology to Democratic Theory: Early Postcards from an Intellectual Journey

1. Introduction

2. The Philosophical Theology of the Undergraduate Thesis

3. Ethics as Science

4. From Ethics as Science to Moral Philosophy

5. From Moral Philosophy to Democratic Theory

2: Does Justice as Fairness Have a Religious Aspect?

1. What Does Rawls Think Gives a View a Religious Aspect?

2. Moral Philosophy and the Religious Temperament

3. What Gives Kant's View a Religious Aspect?

4. Justice as Fairness Has a Religious Aspect

5. Does Political Liberalism Have a Religious Aspect?

Part II: Method

3: Constructivism as Rhetoric

On What Metaethics Is

The Trajectory of Rawls's Thought

The Moral Point of Reflective Equilibrium

Whither Constructivism?

Morality as Metaethics

Reasoning and the Moral Life

4: Kantian Constructivism

1. The Received History of the Dewey Lectures

2. Constructivism before the Dewey Lectures

3. Constructivism in the Dewey Lectures

4. Constructivism after the Dewey Lectures

5: The Basic Structure of Society as the Primary Subject of Justice

1. The Primacy of the Basic Structure – What It Means

2. The Social Nature of Human Relationships and the Profound Influence of Basic Social Institutions

3. The Basic Structure and the Ideals of Persons and Society

4. Distributive Justice and the Importance of Background Justice

5. Clarifications, Objections, and Responses

6: Rawls on Ideal and Nonideal Theory

1. Introduction

2. What Is Ideal Theory?

3. What Is Ideal Theory Good For?

4. Should Ideal Theory Set the Target? Should It Set Priorities?

5. Is Ideal Theory Too Utopian?

6. Is Ideal Theory Too Concessive to Human Nature?

7. Ideal Theory, Nonideal Theory and Action Guidance

7: The Choice from the Original Position

Part III: A Theory of Justice

8: The Priority of Liberty

1. Introduction

2. Three Arguments for the Priority of Liberty in Theory

3. A Kantian Reconstruction of the Hierarchy Argument

4. The Special Status of the Political Liberties

5. Conclusion: Implications for the American Practice of Civil Libertarianism

9: Applying Justice as Fairness to Institutions


Institutional Design, the Four-Stage Sequence and Pluralism

The Basic Liberties and Democratic Institutions

Fair Equality of Opportunity: Education, Health and Employment

Health Care


The Family

The Economy and the Difference Principle


10: Democratic Equality as a Work-in-Progress


1. What Is Democratic Equality?

2. Why Democratic Equality?

3. Productive Reciprocity

4. Disability and Mutual Care

5. Conclusion

11: Stability, a Sense of Justice, and Self-Respect

1. Stability, Its Role, and Rawls's Two Lines of Argument: A Brief Summary

2. Moral Psychology and a Sense of Justice

3. Self-Respect and the Kantian Interpretation

4. Values Not Lost in the Move to Political Liberalism

12: Political Authority, Civil Disobedience, Revolution

1. Political Authority and the Duty to Support Just Institutions

2. A Just Constitutional Regime

3. Justifiable Noncompliance: Civil Disobedience and Conscientious Refusal

4. Revolution

5. Conclusion

Part IV: A Political Conception

13: The Turn to a Political Liberalism

1. The Original Position and Stability in Theory: The Argumentative Structure

2. Stability in Theory: The Substantive Appeal to the Thin Theory

3. “The Fact of Reasonable Pluralism”

4. Shallow Political Liberalism: Reasonable Pluralism of the Good

5. Deep Political Liberalism: Reasonable Pluralism of the Right

6. Conclusion

14: Political Constructivism

Practices and Publicity

Conceptions of Practical Reason

Constructive Interpretation

Modeling Convergence

Justification Rather Than Determination

Rawls's Kantian Phase

15: On the Idea of Public Reason

1. The Practice of Public Reason

2. The Basis of Public Reason

3. Religion and Public Reason

16: Overlapping Consensus

1. Introduction: Overlapping Consensus

2. Constitutional Consensus

3. Overlapping Consensus: Stability or Public Political Justification

4. Utilitarianism and Overlapping Consensus

5. Concluding Thoughts

17: Citizenship as Fairness: John Rawls's Conception of Civic Virtue

Rawls and Republicanism

Rawlsian Civic Virtue

Virtue, Friendship, and Social Concord

Assessing Rawlsian Civic Virtue

18: Inequality, Difference, and Prospects for Democracy

Part V: Extending Political Liberalism: International Relations

19: The Law of Peoples

A Very Brief Intellectual History

The Law of Peoples in the Greater Scheme of Rawls's Work

LP and World Politics

LP and IR


20: Human Rights

1. Introduction

2. Rawls's Law of Peoples: Some Essential Orienting Background

3. Rawls on Human Rights: Some Exposition and Discussion of Key Passages

4. Some Critical Responses to Rawls's Conception of Human Rights and Notable Defenses: A General Overview

5. The Functions of Human Rights and the “List Question”: A Deeper Analysis

6. Some Areas for Further Reflection

21: Global Poverty and Global Inequality

A Global Political Conception

Rawls's Grounds for Nonextrapolation

The Cosmopolitanism of Equality and the Original Position

Goals and Burdens of Assistance

What Is It about Government?

Beyond the Standard Case

22: Just War

1. The Just War Tradition

2. A Theory of Justice

3. The Law of Peoples

Part VI: Conversations with Other Perspectives

23: Rawls, Mill, and Utilitarianism

1. Rawls and Utilitarianism

2. Mill's Utilitarianism: Rawls's Interpretation

3. Against Rawls's Interpretation

24: Perfectionist Justice and Rawlsian Legitimacy

1. Justice and Legitimacy

2. The Diversity of Perfectionist Justice

3. The Principle of Liberal Legitimacy

4. A Brief Note on the Burdens of Judgment

5. Rawlsian Perfectionism

6. Conclusion

25: The Unwritten Theory of Justice: Rawlsian Liberalism versus Libertarianism

1. Constructing the Choice Position

2. The Content of Liberty

3. The Meaning of Equality

4. And yet …

5. Conclusion

26: The Young Marx and the Middle-Aged Rawls

1. The Standard Marxian Criticism

2. From Each/To Each and the Two Principles

3. Shared Ends

4. Alienation

5. Rawlsian Alienation

6. Rawlsian Fraternity

7. The Problem of Alienated Labor

8. Conclusion

27: Challenges of Global and Local Misogyny

Global and Local Misogyny


Principles for Individuals

Containing Unavoidable Injustice

“War” on Women

Ideal Contracts, Original Positions, and Hypothetical Agreements

Principles for Individual Self-Defense in a War on Women

Guerrilla Feminism

28: Critical Theory and Habermas

1. Introduction

2. Immanent Critique and the Primacy of Practices

3. The Habermas/Rawls Exchange: On the Relation between Justice and Democracy

4. Conclusion: The Public Role and Character of Philosophy; Religion in the Public Square

29: Rawls and Economics

Rawls's Sources in Economics

Rawls and the History of Economics

Rawls and Decision Theory

Subjective Preferences and Primary Goods

Rawls and Marx

Rawls and Capitalism


Appendix Tables

30: Learning from the History of Political Philosophy

The Questions of Political Philosophy

How to Learn from History

The Roles of Political Philosophy

The Independence of Political Philosophy

Rawls in the Social Contract Tradition

Rawls in the History of Liberalism

What Rawls Learned from Some of the Greats

Interpreting Rawls Using Rawls's Interpretations of the Exemplars

Rawls in the History of Political Philosophy

31: Rawls and the History of Moral Philosophy: The Cases of Smith and Kant


Adam Smith and Utilitarianism

Kant, Deontology and Teleology


Blackwell Companions to Philosophy

This outstanding student reference series offers a comprehensive and authoritative survey of philosophy as a whole. Written by today's leading philosophers, each volume provides lucid and engaging coverage of the key figures, terms, topics, and problems of the field. Taken together, the volumes provide the ideal basis for course use, representing an unparalleled work of reference for students and specialists alike.

Already published in the series:

1. The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy, Second Edition
Edited by Nicholas Bunnin and Eric Tsui-James
2. A Companion to Ethics
Edited by Peter Singer
3. A Companion to Aesthetics, Second Edition
Edited by Stephen Davies, Kathleen Marie Higgins, Robert Hopkins, Robert Stecker, and David E. Cooper
4. A Companion to Epistemology, Second Edition
Edited by Jonathan Dancy, Ernest Sosa, and Matthias Steup
5. A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy (two-volume set), Second Edition
Edited by Robert E. Goodin and Philip Pettit
6. A Companion to Philosophy of Mind
Edited by Samuel Guttenplan
7. A Companion to Metaphysics, Second Edition
Edited by Jaegwon Kim, Ernest Sosa, and Gary S. Rosenkrantz
8. A Companion to Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory, Second Edition
Edited by Dennis Patterson
9. A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, Second Edition
Edited by Charles Taliaferro, Paul Draper, and Philip L. Quinn
10. A Companion to the Philosophy of Language
Edited by Bob Hale and Crispin Wright
11. A Companion to World Philosophies
Edited by Eliot Deutsch and Ron Bontekoe
12. A Companion to Continental Philosophy
Edited by Simon Critchley and William Schroeder
13. A Companion to Feminist Philosophy
Edited by Alison M. Jaggar and Iris Marion Young
14. A Companion to Cognitive Science
Edited by William Bechtel and George Graham
15. A Companion to Bioethics, Second Edition
Edited by Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer
16. A Companion to the Philosophers
Edited by Robert L. Arrington
17. A Companion to Business Ethics
Edited by Robert E. Frederick
18. A Companion to the Philosophy of Science
Edited by W. H. Newton-Smith
19. A Companion to Environmental Philosophy
Edited by Dale Jamieson
20. A Companion to Analytic Philosophy
Edited by A. P. Martinich and David Sosa
21. A Companion to Genethics
Edited by Justine Burley and John Harris
22. A Companion to Philosophical Logic
Edited by Dale Jacquette
23. A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy
Edited by Steven Nadler
24. A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages
Edited by Jorge J. E. Gracia and Timothy B. Noone
25. A Companion to African-American Philosophy
Edited by Tommy L. Lott and John P. Pittman
26. A Companion to Applied Ethics
Edited by R.G. Frey and Christopher Heath Wellman
27. A Companion to the Philosophy of Education
Edited by Randall Curren
28. A Companion to African Philosophy
Edited by Kwasi Wiredu
29. A Companion to Heidegger
Edited by Hubert L. Dreyfus and Mark A. Wrathall
30. A Companion to Rationalism
Edited by Alan Nelson
31. A Companion to Pragmatism
Edited by John R. Shook and Joseph Margolis
32. A Companion to Ancient Philosophy
Edited by Mary Louise Gill and Pierre Pellegrin
33. A Companion to Nietzsche
Edited by Keith Ansell Pearson
34. A Companion to Socrates
Edited by Sara Ahbel-Rappe and Rachana Kamtekar
35. A Companion to Phenomenology and Existentialism
Edited by Hubert L. Dreyfus and Mark A. Wrathall
36. A Companion to Kant
Edited by Graham Bird
37. A Companion to Plato
Edited by Hugh H. Benson
38. A Companion to Descartes
Edited by Janet Broughton and John Carriero
39. A Companion to the Philosophy of Biology
Edited by Sahotra Sarkar and Anya Plutynski
40. A Companion to Hume
Edited by Elizabeth S. Radcliffe
41. A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography
Edited by Aviezer Tucker
42. A Companion to Aristotle
Edited by Georgios Anagnostopoulos
43. A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology
Edited by Jan-Kyrre Berg Olsen, Stig Andur Pedersen, and Vincent F. Hendricks
44. A Companion to Latin American Philosophy
Edited by Susana Nuccetelli, Ofelia Schutte, and Otávio Bueno
45. A Companion to the Philosophy of Literature
Edited by Garry L. Hagberg and Walter Jost
46. A Companion to the Philosophy of Action
Edited by Timothy O'Connor and Constantine Sandis
47. A Companion to Relativism
Edited by Steven D. Hales
48. A Companion to Hegel
Edited by Stephen Houlgate and Michael Baur
49. A Companion to Schopenhauer
Edited by Bart Vandenabeele
50. A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy
Edited by Steven M. Emmanuel
51. A Companion to Foucault
Edited by Christopher Falzon, Timothy O'Leary, and Jana Sawicki
52. A Companion to the Philosophy of Time
Edited by Heather Dyke and Adrian Bardon
53. A Companion to Donald Davidson
Edited by Ernest Lepore and Kirk Ludwig
54. A Companion to Rawls
Edited by Jon Mandle and David A. Reidy


A Companion to Derrida, edited by Leonard Lawlor and Zeynep Direk

A Companion to Locke, edited by Matthew Stuart

Title page

Notes on Contributors

Kenneth Baynes is Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at Syracuse University. He has published widely on Rawls, Habermas, and Taylor, and on human rights. His next book will be on Habermas.

Gillian Brock is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Her most recent work has been on global justice and related fields. She is the author of Global Justice: A Cosmopolitan Account (2009) and editor or coeditor of Current Debates in Global Justice (2005); The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism (2005); Necessary Goods: Our Responsibilities to Meet Others' Needs (1998); and Global Heath and Global Health Ethics (2011).

Daniel Brudney is Professor of Philosophy at The University of Chicago. He writes and teaches in political philosophy, philosophy and literature, and bioethics. He is the author of Marx's Attempt to Leave Philosophy (1998).

Claudia Card, Emma Goldman Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, studied with John Rawls at Harvard from 1962 to 1966 and wrote her PhD thesis, on punishment, under his direction. Her books include The Atrocity Paradigm: A Theory of Evil (2002), The Cambridge Companion to Simone de Beauvoir (edited, 2003), and Confronting Evils: Terrorism, Torture, Genocide (2010).

Richard Dagger is E. Claiborne Robins Distinguished Chair in the Liberal Arts at the University of Richmond, where he teaches in the Department of Political Science and in the Program in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law. He is the author of Civic Virtues: Rights, Citizenship, and Republican Liberalism and coauthor of Political Ideologies and the Democratic Ideal.

Samuel Freeman is Avalon Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy and Law at The University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Justice and the Social Contract (2006) and of Rawls (2007). He has edited three volumes: The Cambridge Companion to Rawls (2003); John Rawls's Collected Papers (1999); John Rawls's Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy (2008); and he coedited Reasons and Recognition: Essays in Honor of T.M. Scanlon (2011).

Barbara H. Fried is the William W. and Gertrude H. Saunders Professor of Law at Stanford University. She has written widely in moral and political theory, and is the author of The Progressive Assault on Laissez Faire: Robert Hale and the First Law and Economics Movement (1998).

Gerald Gaus is the James E. Rogers Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona, where he directs the Program in Philosophy, Politics, Economics & Law. His most recent book is The Order of Public Reason (2011).

Paul Guyer is Jonathan Nelson Professor of Humanities and Philosophy at Brown University. He is the author of nine books on Kant, including three on Kant's moral and political philosophy, editor of six anthologies on Kant, and cotranslator of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of the Power of Judgment, and Notes and Fragments. He will shortly publish A History of Modern Aesthetics in three volumes.

Thomas E. Hill, Jr studied at Harvard and Oxford, taught for 16 years at the University of California, Los Angeles, visited at Stanford University and the University of Minnesota, and is now Kenan Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is author of Virtue, Rules, and Justice (2012); Human Welfare and Moral Worth (2002); Respect, Pluralism and Justice (2000); Dignity and Practical Reason in Kant's Ethics (1992); and Autonomy and Self-Respect (1991).

Aaron James is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine. He is author of Fairness in Practice: A Social Contract for a Global Economy (2012), recipient of the ACLS (American Council of Learned Societies) Burkhardt Fellowship, and was recently a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University.

Alexander Kaufman is Associate Professor of Political Theory at the Department of Political Science, University of Georgia. He is author of Welfare in the Kantian State (1999) and editor of Capabilities Equality: Issues and Problems (2006), and has published articles on Rawls, distributive justice, social contract theory, German Idealism, and philosophy of law.

Erin I. Kelly is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Her research focuses on questions about justice, the nature of moral reasons, moral responsibility and desert, and theories of punishment. Her recent publications include “Reparative Justice,” in Accountability for Collective Wrongdoing (2011), “Equal Opportunity, Unequal Capability,” in Measuring Justice: Capabilities and Primary Goods (2010), and “Criminal Justice without Retribution,” Journal of Philosophy (2009). She is editor of John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (2001).

Larry Krasnoff is Professor of Philosophy at the College of Charleston. He is coeditor of New Essays on the History of Autonomy (2004) and author of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit: An Introduction (2008). His essays have appeared in the European Journal of Philosophy, the Journal of Philosophy, and the Philosophical Quarterly.

Anthony Simon Laden is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of Reasoning: A Social Picture (2012) and Reasonably Radical: Deliberative Liberalism and the Politics of Identity (2001), as well as numerous articles on Rawls's work.

Daniel Little is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. His fields of research include the philosophy of the social sciences, the practice of democracy, and globalization. His recent books include New Contributions to the Philosophy of History (2010) and The Paradox of Wealth and Poverty: Mapping the Ethical Dilemmas of Global Development (2003). His academic blog can be found at

S.A. Lloyd is Professor of Philosophy, Law, and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She is the author of Morality in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes: Cases in the Law of Nature (1992), Ideals as Interests in Hobbes’s Leviathan: Mind over Matter (1992), The Bloomsbury Companion to Hobbes (2013), and Hobbes Today (2013), as well as numerous articles on Rawls on the family and liberal feminism.

Colin M. Macleod is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Law at the University of Victoria in Canada. His research focuses on issues in contemporary moral, political, and legal theory with a special focus on distributive justice and equality; children, families, and justice; and democratic ethics. He is the author of Liberalism, Justice, and Markets (1998) and coeditor with David Archard of The Moral and Political Status of Children (2002).

Jon Mandle is a Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University at Albany (SUNY). He is coeditor with David Reidy of this volume and of the forthcoming Rawls Lexicon, and the author of What's Left of Liberalism: An Interpretation and Defense of Justice as Fairness (2000); Global Justice (2006); and Rawls's A Theory of Justice: An Introduction (2009), as well as articles on political philosophy, ethics, and their history.

Rex Martin is Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at the University of Kansas and Honorary Professor in the School of European Languages and Politics at Cardiff University. His fields of major interest are political and legal philosophy and history of political thought. He is the author of several books, including A System of Rights (1993) and the editor or coeditor of several more, including Rawls's Law of Peoples: A Realistic Utopia? (2006).

Richard W. Miller is Hutchinson Professor in Ethics and Public Life and Director of the Program on Ethics and Public Life in the Department of Philosophy at Cornell University. His writings in political philosophy and ethics include Analyzing Marx (1984), Moral Differences (1992), and Globalizing Justice:The Ethics of Poverty and Power (2010).

Darrel Moellendorf is Professor of International Political Theory at Goethe University Frankfurt. He is the author of Cosmopolitan Justice (2002), Global Inequality Matters (2009), and Dangerous Climate Change: Values, Poverty, and Policy (2013). He has been a Member of the School of Social Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study and a Senior Fellow at Justitia Amplificata at the Johann Goethe Universität, Frankfurt and the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften.

Jonathan Quong is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Liberalism without Perfection (2011), as well as articles on political liberalism, public reason, democracy, distributive justice, and the morality of defensive harm.

David A. Reidy is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tennessee. He has published widely in political and legal philosophy and has focused his work in recent years on Rawls and on issues of global justice and human rights.

Jonathan Riley is Professor of Philosophy and Political Economy, Tulane University, and, during 2013, Visiting J.S. Mill Chair in Social Philosophy at the University of Hamburg, Germany. He is currently completing the second edition of his Mill: On Liberty (1998) as well as a companion volume, Mill's Radical Liberalism.

Zofia Stemplowska is University Lecturer in Political Theory and Asa Briggs Fellow, Worcester College, University of Oxford. Her publications include the coedited Responsibility and Distributive Justice (2011).

Adam Swift is Professor of Political Theory at the University of Warwick. He is coauthor (with Stephen Mulhall) of Liberals and Communitarians (1996) and author of How Not To Be a Hypocrite: School Choice for the Morally Perplexed Parent (2003) and Political Philosophy: A Beginners' Guide for Students and Politicians (2013).

Robert S. Taylor is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Davis. He specializes in contemporary analytic political philosophy and the history of liberal political thought. He is the author of Reconstructing Rawls: The Kantian Foundations of Justice as Fairness (2011) as well as articles in Philosophy and Public Affairs, Ethics, Journal of Political Philosophy, Political Theory, Journal of Politics, and Review of Politics.

Steven Wall is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona, where he is also a member of the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom. He is the author of Liberalism, Perfectionism and Restraint (1998) and coeditor of Reasons for Action (2009).

Paul Weithman is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, where he has taught since 1991. He has worked on political philosophy, the philosophy of education, religious ethics and medieval political theory. His most recent book, Why Political Liberalism: On John Rawls's Political Turn (2011) was recognized with the 2012 David and Elaine Spitz Prize as the best book published in liberal and democratic theory in the previous year.

Stuart White is Fellow in Politics at Jesus College, Oxford. His research focuses centrally on the political philosophy of economic citizenship. He is the author of The Civic Minimum (2003) and Equality (2006).

Huw Lloyd Williams is Lecturer in Philosophy at Cardiff University. He is the author of On Rawls, Development and Global Justice: The Freedom of Peoples (2011).


Jon Mandle and David A. Reidy

It is now more than 10 years since John Rawls died in 2002, at the age of 81, and more than 60 years since his first publication in 1951. Yet, his work continues to occupy a unique and central position in contemporary political philosophy. Over the years it has generated an enormous secondary literature and sparked numerous interpretive and critical debates. The recent publication of Rawls's Princeton undergraduate thesis and his Harvard lectures in moral and political philosophy and the archival processing by Harvard of Rawls's unpublished papers, lectures, letters, annotated books, and so on, have only served further to stimulate interest in and debate over Rawls's work, often raising new questions, reviving debates thought to be settled, and suggesting new ways of understanding Rawls's work. With all this in mind, we were keen to produce with this volume not so much a summary of past scholarly work as a serviceable roadmap for current and future work on Rawls. Accordingly, we asked our contributors to address themselves to the themes and issues that in their view will or should occupy the attention of the scholars engaged or likely to engage in this work. As evidenced by their contributions, this scholarship is likely to range beyond issues of justice. For while Samuel Freeman is certainly correct that “Rawls devoted his entire career to one general philosophical topic and as a result wrote more on the subject of justice than any other major philosopher” (2007, x), as the essays in this collection establish, and as Freeman would readily acknowledge, to understand fully and evaluate fairly Rawls's work one must engage an immense number of related issues, just as Rawls himself did.

In Part I, David Reidy and Paul Weithman draw on materials only recently available to cast new light on Rawls's own understanding of his project and philosophical ambitions. Drawing on Rawls's undergraduate senior thesis (BI) and unpublished material from the Rawls archives, including papers from graduate school, Reidy (Chapter 1) gives us a series of “postcards” from Rawls's early philosophical development. Each offers a glimpse into the origin of one of the several enduring themes or concerns animating Rawls's mature work. Although BI is one of the few places where Rawls presents his work in an explicitly religious framework, in his Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, he notes that Kant's work, clearly a source of inspiration for Rawls, has “an obvious religious aspect” (LHMP, 160). Rawls sometimes acknowledged in conversation that his own work was motivated by, among others, an essentially religious concern. Weithman (Chapter 2) provides a non-theistic interpretation of when a work has a “religious aspect” and argues that this characterization applies to Rawls's work as well as to Kant's. Weithman does not argue that this characterization informs Rawls's own understanding of his work, but the possibility is clearly a live one.

The essays in Part II explore certain key ideas in Rawls's philosophical method. Both Anthony Laden and Larry Krasnoff examine the meaning and significance of Rawls's “constructivism.” Laden (Chapter 3) explores the relationship between constructivism and the idea of reflective equilibrium, arguing that, contrary to commonly held views, it is the latter that captures Rawls's metaethical commitments while the former constitutes Rawls's method for theory-building. Krasnoff (Chapter 4) argues that the significance of Rawls's 1980 Dewey Lectures has been widely misunderstood. Kantian constructivism was a response to certain challenges to the ideas of the original position and reflective equilibrium. While Rawls's later turn to political liberalism set aside Kantian moral constructivism, he did not abandon a political form of Kantian constructivism. Another key to Rawls's method is his idea that the first subject of justice is the basic structure of society. Samuel Freeman (Chapter 5) explores the justification and significance of the methodological priority Rawls assigns to the basic structure of society, taking care to show how a failure to understand this priority leads all too easily to confusions, both exegetical and substantively philosophical. Methodologically speaking, Rawls assigns priority also to ideal theory (over nonideal theory), and in fact most of his work is within ideal theory. With this feature of Rawls's method in mind, Adam Swift and Zofia Stemplowska (Chapter 6) explore the different senses in which a theory can be “ideal” and the strengths and weaknesses of these different idealizations. Finally, Rawls's method features a now familiar “device of representation” or heuristic: the idea of the “original position.” Jon Mandle (Chapter 7) traces the development of this idea in Rawls's work from his dissertation to A Theory of Justice, shedding light on its role in Rawls's thought and its contribution to the argument for Rawls's two principles of justice.

The essays in Part III focus on the substantive claims central to TJ. Foremost among these, of course, is Rawls's commitment to the lexical priority of the liberty principle over the principle of fair equality of opportunity, the difference principle, perfectionist ends, and economic efficiency. Robert Taylor (Chapter 8) argues that this priority can be justified only on the basis of a robust commitment to Kantian autonomy. If Taylor is right, this would arguably have the implication of prioritizing the protection of political liberties over civil liberties. Rawls argues that the institutional implications of his principles are properly determined through a “four-stage sequence” within which they guide first the selection of a constitution, then the enacting of laws under that constitution, and finally the application of those laws to particular cases. Colin Macleod (Chapter 9) examines the application of Rawls's principles through this process to democratic political institutions, education, health care, the family, and the economy. Central to Rawls's account of economic justice are the two parts of his second principle of justice, the principle of fair equality of opportunity and the difference principle. Together these specify for Rawls an ideal of “democratic equality.” Stuart White (Chapter 10) considers this ideal and whether it is appropriately responsive to effort and whether it should and can be extended to address the concerns of severely sick and disabled individuals. One of the central substantive claims of TJ, advanced in its final three chapters, is that a society organized around Rawls's two principles of justice as fairness would tend to be stable and indeed more stable than a society organized around candidate alternative principles. Over the years, this claim has befuddled many commentators. Rawls's recasting in Political Liberalism of his claims regarding the stability of a society organized around his two principles only added to the confusion. Thomas Hill (Chapter 11) reconstructs Rawls's stability argument from TJ and then undertakes to sort out what does and does not survive in the transition to PL. Although his focus in TJ is on the principles of justice applicable to society's basic structure, Rawls does not entirely ignore the duties and obligations of individuals. In PL he addresses various civic duties related to democratic deliberation (some of the essays in Part IV of this volume, discussed below, address these duties). But in TJ he addresses primarily political duties and obligations related to fidelity or resistance to the law. Alexander Kaufman (Chapter 12) examines Rawls's idea of political authority and the conditions under which political institutions deserve citizens' fidelity and obedience and under which their resistance is permissible or required.

A few years after the publication of TJ, Rawls began to worry that the argument he had given there for the stability of a society governed by his two principles was inconsistent. It presupposed a degree of doctrinal moral consensus unlikely to arise or last under the conditions of freedom guaranteed by his principles. As he worked on a solution to this problem, one issue seemed to lead to another. By the time Rawls felt he had a solution to the problem he had developed a family of new ideas and arguments. These he gathered together under the umbrella idea of a “political liberalism,” presenting them in a book of the same name. The essays in Part IV of this volume take up the ideas and arguments at the heart of Rawls's “political liberalism.” One of these is the idea of the reasonable pluralism of competing and conflicting comprehensive doctrines (moral, religious, philosophical) that arises inevitably under conditions of freedom and justice. In order to explain how a society organized by his two principles, and so free and just, might prove stable, notwithstanding the reasonable doctrinal pluralism that will inevitably mark it, Rawls recasts his two principles as part of a “political conception” of justice. But Gerald Gaus (Chapter 13) argues that the very conditions that make inevitable reasonable doctrinal pluralism will also make inevitable a reasonable pluralism of competing and conflicting political conceptions of justice. The stability problem emerges, then, as deeper and more challenging than is often acknowledged. Recast as a “political conception” of justice, Rawls characterizes justice as fairness in PL not as a Kantian moral constructivism but rather as a “political constructivism.” This move has left many wondering what exactly makes a view “constructivist” and what distinguishes “political constructivism” as a special case. Aaron James (Chapter 14) clarifies the general idea of “constructivism,” analyzing it into five elements, in order to make sense of Rawls's distinction between a Kantian moral constructivism and a political constructivism.

Another idea central to Rawls's “political liberalism” is the idea of public reason, or the shared reason citizens (and officials) use when deliberating or addressing one another in their role or capacity as citizens (or officials) in order to render intelligible and evaluate or justify the constitutional essentials and fundamental justice of their society's basic social structure. A reasonable political conception of justice belongs to the public reason of citizens in a free and just society. The idea and ideal of public reason has generated both confusion and resistance from many quarters. Jonathan Quong (Chapter 15) carefully sets out the idea(l) and gives it a robust defense. Of course, Rawls allows that when deliberating over and deciding political issues citizens (and officials) will also reason from their many diverse comprehensive (moral, religious, and philosophical) doctrines. While these doctrines do not belong to their shared public reason, citizens (and officials) remain free to reason from them in political life, provided they do so consistent with the idea(l) of public reason. When citizens (and officials) reasoning from their many diverse comprehensive doctrines have reason to affirm, or at least no reason to reject, one and the same reasonable political conception of justice (or family of such conceptions), they join in what Rawls dubs an “overlapping consensus.” The fact, or at least realistic possibility, of an overlapping consensus is central to the stability of a free and just society. Rex Martin (Chapter 16) provides a careful account of the role of overlapping consensus in Rawls's political liberalism. Martin pays special attention to the much discussed question of whether utilitarianism, and if so, which species of utilitarianism, can participate in an overlapping consensus the object of which includes justice as fairness. Taken together, many of the ideas central to Rawls's political liberalism specify an idea(l) of civic virtue essential to the stability of a just and free society. Richard Dagger (Chapter 17) argues that this idea(l) of civic virtue – which constitutes something like a shared answer to the question: What is democratic citizenship for? – is in fact a unifying theme running throughout Rawls's work, the foundation of public trust and social stability. Without dissenting from this claim, Erin Kelly (Chapter 18) argues that in contemporary democracies like the United States inequality is a more pressing threat to public trust and social stability than the reasonable pluralism of comprehensive doctrines or the absence of a publicly shared idea(l) of civic virtue.

The essays of Part V consider Rawls's extension of political liberalism to matters of international relations, especially as presented in The Law of Peoples. The extension is necessary to complete justice as fairness and political liberalism, for the realistic possibility of a just and stable liberal democracy depends not only on its internal structure but also on its external relations to other polities. Though eagerly awaited, Rawls's account of these relations in LP received an overwhelmingly negative reception from scholars. Huw Williams (Chapter 19) argues that this reception was misguided and that LP in fact offers a novel and principled vision of international relations that ought to be attractive to liberal democratic peoples. A key feature of Rawls's extension of political liberalism in LP is a conception of human rights as essential to the shared public reason through which liberal democratic and other well-ordered and decent peoples render intelligible and evaluate their relations to one another on the global stage. Gillian Brock (Chapter 20) examines Rawls's conception of human rights in light of the various responses, critical and sympathetic, it has provoked. A second key feature of the view Rawls develops in LP is a duty owed by liberal democratic and other well-ordered decent peoples to assist impoverished peoples in achieving the material and human resources necessary to fulfilling human rights and a basic social structure that is at least not too unjust. Among peoples able to fulfill human rights and with a basic social structure that is not too unjust there is, on Rawls's view, no substantial reason arising out of considerations of justice to constrain material inequalities. Richard Miller (Chapter 21) takes a close and careful look at Rawls's duty of assistance and his relatively permissive stance toward material inequalities among peoples and argues that Rawls fails to respond adequately to the pressing problems of global poverty and inequality. Finally, in LP Rawls articulates various limits on the use of coercive force, including military force, within international relations. Darrel Moellendorf (Chapter 22) takes up Rawls's views here and assesses them as a contribution to the tradition of thought known as just war theory.

While Rawls's work in TJ, PL and LP is focused almost exclusively on issues of justice as they present themselves within the tradition of liberal democratic thought, he pursued his work with an eye toward a number of related issues and in conversation with a variety of traditions and perspectives. The essays in Part VI of this volume engage this aspect of Rawls's work. Rawls's conversation with and sympathetic understanding of the work of John Stuart Mill dates back to Rawls's days as a graduate student. While Rawls rejected the utilitarian tradition that runs from Bentham through Edgeworth and Sidgwick, his relationship to Mill's utilitarianism was and remained over time much more friendly, a fact recently highlighted in Rawls's lectures on Mill published in his Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy. Jonathan Riley (Chapter 23) scrutinizes Rawls's interpretation of and relationship to Mill, arguing that Rawls seems to misunderstand either Mill's or his own view. There is, of course, in Mill's utilitarianism a rather pronounced perfectionist undercurrent. And Rawls famously deploys well-known arguments against perfectionist conceptions of justice. Setting aside what this suggests about Rawls's understanding of and relationship to Mill's work, Steven Wall (Chapter 24) takes up Rawls's antiperfectionist arguments on their own terms and finds them wanting. He argues that notwithstanding Rawls's own pronouncements, there are forms of state perfectionism compatible with Rawls's justice as fairness and political liberalism. Just as Riley and Wall complicate the relationship between Rawls's work and utilitarianism, on the one hand, and perfectionism, on the other, Barbara Fried (Chapter 25) complicates the relationship between Rawls's work and the tradition of thought referred to as libertarianism. Starting with Nozick and moving forward to later versions of libertarianism, she argues that the tensions between Rawls and his libertarian critics are sometimes more apparent than real and in any case often misunderstood and overstated. Daniel Brudney (Chapter 26) makes a similar sort of point regarding the relationship between Rawls's work and Marx's, especially the work of the younger Marx (of 1844, say). Setting aside the various species of later Marxisms, Brudney argues that there are some deep thematic points of common ground between Rawls's work and the work of the younger Marx. Irrespective of details, there can be little doubt that like Marx and Rousseau before him, Rawls sees the great evils of human history as arising in important ways out of injustice, especially institutional and political injustice. Rawls notes the connection explicitly in LP. Taking this link as her point of departure, Claudia Card (Chapter 27) focuses on the great evils of misogyny, especially misogynistic violence, and the lessons that might be drawn from Rawls's work by those engaged in the struggle against these evils. Moved, like Rawls, by a desire both to overcome injustice and to realize freedom, Jürgen Habermas has emerged over the last few decades, worldwide but especially in Europe, as a leading theorist and critic of the social forms of modernity, including the institutions of liberal democracy. By the mid-1990s a substantial conversation had developed between Rawls (and Rawlsians) and Habermas (and Habermasians). Notwithstanding the tendency of those engaged in this conversation to emphasize points of difference, Kenneth Baynes (Chapter 28) argues that Rawls and Habermas are much closer to one another in their views than either seems fully to appreciate.

Rawls drew from a variety of disciplines over the course of his life's work: sociology, economics, formal decision theory, the history of moral and political philosophy, and so on. In his earlier work (leading up to and including TJ) Rawls was especially interested in drawing on the work of and addressing himself to twentieth-century economists. Daniel Little (Chapter 29) examines Rawls's relationship to the field of economics. Of course, Rawls's interest in and debts to the greats of political economy extend far back into history and are just a piece of his interest in and debts to the greats of moral and political philosophy (of which political economy historically has been a part) more generally. The final two essays in this volume take up Rawls's understanding of and engagement with the history of moral and political philosophy. S.A. Lloyd (Chapter 30) argues that Rawls provides a highly attractive model for how to engage with the history of political philosophy. Without dissenting from Lloyd's central point, Paul Guyer (Chapter 31) argues that Rawls nevertheless missed some key opportunities in his conversation with the history of moral philosophy. For example, Rawls missed opportunities to explore the complex relationship between substantive deontological commitments and a more basic justificatory teleology, a point of common ground, on Guyer's view, between Rawls, Kant, and Adam Smith, the latter largely and unhappily neglected by Rawls.

Obviously, other ways of grouping the chapters would have been possible. Some chapters focus primarily on internal developments in or interpretations of Rawls's work, while others develop connections to and contrasts with the work of others. Some stick closely to textual interpretations while others are more imaginative, taking Rawls as inspiration. Some defend Rawls while others are more critical. But all succeed in moving the discussion forward. We are grateful to our contributors for their participation in this project. We also would like to thank Ann Bone for her truly outstanding work as copy editor.


The works by Rawls listed below are those noted in this introduction. Each chapter lists the works by Rawls it cites, together with their abbreviations.

Works by Rawls, with Abbreviations

A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith, with “On My Religion” (BI), ed. Thomas Nagel. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

The Law of Peoples, with “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited” (LP). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy (LHMP), ed. Barbara Herman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy (LHPP), ed. Samuel Freeman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Political Liberalism (PL), expanded edn. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

A Theory of Justice (TJ), rev. edn. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Other Reference

Freeman, Samuel (2007) Rawls. London: Routledge.

Part I



From Philosophical Theology to Democratic Theory

Early Postcards from an Intellectual Journey

David A. Reidy

It is easy to kill a subject by demanding too much of it early on; a subject needs to be guided by big intuitive ideas, particularly at the start. … It is a delusion to think that rigorous analysis in a small area unguided by a large idea is of much value. One does not understand even a small thing in this way.

John Rawls, 1964, to students in his moral philosophy course