- Feb 2020
A Theory of Justice
A Theory of Justice is a 1971 work of political philosophy and ethics by the philosopher John Rawls, in which the author addresses the problem of distributive justice (the socially just distribution of goods in a society). The theory uses an updated form of Kantian philosophy and a variant form of conventional social contract theory. Rawls's theory of justice is fully a political theory of justice as opposed to other forms of justice discussed in other disciplines and contexts.
The resultant theory was challenged and refined several times in the decades following its original publication in 1971. A significant reappraisal was published in the 1985 essay "Justice as Fairness", and a subsequent book under the same title, within which Rawls further developed his two central principles for his discussion of justice. Together, they dictate that society should be structured so that the greatest possible amount of liberty is given to its members, limited only by the notion that the liberty of any one member shall not infringe upon that of any other member. Secondly, inequalities – either social or economic – are only to be allowed if the worst off will be better off than they might be under an equal distribution. Finally, if there is such a beneficial inequality, this inequality should not make it harder for those without resources to occupy positions of power – for instance, public office.
First published in 1971, A Theory of Justice was revised in 1975, while translated editions were being released in the 1990s it was further revised in 1999. In 2001, Rawls published a follow-up study titled Justice as Fairness: A Restatement.