A Theory of Justice, Paperback Book
4.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


Since it appeared in 1971, John Rawls's "A Theory of Justice" has become a classic.

The author has now revised the original edition to clear up a number of difficulties he and others have found in the original book. Rawls aims to express an essential part of the common core of the democratic tradition--justice as fairness--and to provide an alternative to utilitarianism, which had dominated the Anglo-Saxon tradition of political thought since the nineteenth century.

Rawls substitutes the ideal of the social contract as a more satisfactory account of the basic rights and liberties of citizens as free and equal persons. "Each person," writes Rawls, "possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override." Advancing the ideas of Rousseau, Kant, Emerson, and Lincoln, Rawls's theory is as powerful today as it was when first published.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 560 pages, 12 line illustrations
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Jurisprudence & philosophy of law
  • ISBN: 9780674000780

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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

some of the most cutting edge ideas of fairness. i'm still not convinced about rights, per se, but this is a ground-breaking work o njustice nonetheless.

Review by

I haven't read past the intro, but boy what an intro. The great modern work on distributive justice.

Review by

The book has three sections: Theory, Institutions, Ends. Theory and Institutions deserve five stars, Ends 3 (or less, I want to be generous.)Rawls' goal when he wrote the first edition (published in 1971) was to explicate a coherent alternative, based on social-contract theory, to the then-prevalent utilitarian understanding of justice. He must have succeeded--everyone seems now to nod a head in his direction when discussing justice whether they agree with him or not. Not being an academic I could be missing some water-cooler gossip that he failed utterly, but I don't think so.In the first two sections he builds a theory and then some institutions implementing that theory based on a thought-experiment he calls "the original condition" (among other terms), which is an imaginary situation where a group of people who are going to live within a society make up the principles and then the institutions for the society without knowing what their role in the society will be and what their status relative to the others' will be. That lack of knowledge he calls the "veil of ignorance" and although it's a fine tool for refining the theory without having to deal with the complexities of lived-life, it also gives notice that he is going to be concerned throughout only with disembodied theory with only an occaisional hand-wave to real situations, and that can get frustrating, fast. I suppose if you're a theorist keeping things tidy is more important than keeping things real, but most of us aren't theorists. The last section, in which he tests his theory with respect to real world situations just falls apart for me. My marginal notes say things like "when you're being interviewed on Oprah", and "maybe in an alternative universe." It could be that the real life-experience of a tenured professor is enough different from my more (ahem) worldy experiences, but it seemed like he was describing situations in bizarro-world, not mine.But still, after a careful reading of this seminal work, I have an increased confidance in my background understanding of the issues surrounding a theory of justice and am launching myself into some of the more recent treatises on the subject.