Ariadne's Thread on Justice

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The Theory of John Rawls

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Professor Sidgwick Speaking
I want to thank you all for returning for our second session. Thank you very much indeed.

In our first session we discussed a principle of justice that most moral philosophers agree to; namely, that we should treat equally cases equally and unequal cases unequally. We agreed that this principle was of some value, but that it did not exhaust the subject of justice. Perhaps it is a formal principle, and perhaps there are other more substantive principles that we must add to it in order to decide what is just in any given case. 

Several people agreed that in order us to treat equal cases equally and unequally cases differently, we must have more information. For example, we must know what characteristics are relevant to determining which cases are equal. We must also know what treatment is dictated by justice when cases are equal or unequal. All of this must be provided by a broader theory of justice. And that leads us to our topic today.

This week I want us to venture into more substantive matters and discuss one of the best known modern theories of justice. I have asked John to begin our discussion of the most prominent and influential political philosopher of the last 35 years -- John Rawls. All of you have read some of Rawls, so everyone should be able to help us lay out his basic theory.

For this session, I want everyone to confine themselves to clarifying what Rawls said. Let's try to get a clear understanding of his theory before we start tearing it apart. In our next session we can criticize his views.

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