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A Theory of Justice

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  8,455 Ratings  ·  149 Reviews
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, wh
Paperback, Original Edition, 624 pages
Published March 31st 2005 by Belknap Press (first published January 1st 1971)
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Jan 27, 2011 Tyler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Philosophy, Politics
Recommended to Tyler by: Book's Reputation
Shelves: philosophy
What strikes me most as a non-philosopher reading this book is what Rawls doesn’t talk about. Libertarian ideas, the staple of American political and social discourse, receive no attention as such in this book. To the extent that libertarianism factors in at all, Rawls dismisses it so peremptorily he practically laughs at it. Yet his oblique approach does take on its precepts, as I‘ll mention later.

A Theory of Justice takes up a problem that goes back to the Enlightenment: If rights inure to ind
My beef with John Rawls is twofold. First, there's his seriously questionable method invoking the "veil of ignorance," which is just a spiffier version of the easy-to-discredit social contract theory. Second, he seems to arrive at remarkably dull conclusions, that liberal democracy is the best possible way of dealing with human relations. OK, so first you're assuming all the assumptions that Western post-Enlightenment classical-liberals have, and then using those assumptions to inform a spurious ...more
Sep 17, 2015 Greg rated it it was amazing
The book that I wound up reading most often in college (my major was Ethics, Politics and Economics). It shaped my worldview and politics perhaps more than any other book ever. I am elevating it from 4 stars to 5 stars because of that, in spite of the fact that it can be a bit of a slog. With this book, Rawls reignited political theory after a period during which not much of anything new had been said for decades, but he's not exactly a brilliant prose stylist.
Farjana Chowdhury
Dec 06, 2011 Farjana Chowdhury rated it really liked it
In "A Theory of Justice", John Rawls presents a conception of justice which, as he puts it, generalises and carries to a higher level of abstraction the social contract theory. So, rather than dictating the exact form of government to be applied, the persons in the Rawls' original position would, in trying to further their own interests, decide upon principles of justice to regulate the basic distributive structure of society. Concerned only with institutional justice, the theory dictates that i ...more
Feb 07, 2010 Wendy rated it really liked it
So, first off: this is a work of academic philosophy. I think it's very readable and entertaining for a work of academic philosophy, but this is probably not a book to take to the beach. It also helps if you've had a basic course in philosophy, or have recently read a book like Michael Sandel's Justice, because the book will be very hard going if you don't have at least a glimmer of an idea about utilitarianism or Kantianism.

So, why read Rawls? It's often asserted that Rawls's work is the philo
Feb 26, 2008 Shibbie rated it liked it
Shelves: read-for-school, own
Ok, I didn't read all of this one. Basically he argues that society should be based in a way that any good should help everyone. Against exploitation of the poorest for the benefit of the rich, which is a fair argument. However, he also argues that growth should not happen just for the rich while leaving the poor behind. Too much equalization of opportunity at the tax payers' expense for my liking. His political theory is however integral to understanding the trend of government over the past 50 ...more
Anthony Buckley
Nov 25, 2010 Anthony Buckley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, useful
I’ll start with just a word of complaint. There is no reason at all why an intelligent person like John Rawls should write so badly. One does not expect Mark Twain, George Orwell or even J K Galbraith. However, Rawls could have put in some examples, so that the reader did not sink into a bog of abstract nouns, and it would have been good if he had injected an occasional flash of wit to dissuade the reader from falling off his chair.

This having been said, the book is useful and interesting. It p
kiran Banerjee
Feb 04, 2008 kiran Banerjee rated it it was ok
On page 432 of this hefty work, Rawls writes:

"Imagine someone whose only pleasure is to count blades of grass in various geometrically shaped areas such as park squares and well-trimmed lawns. He is otherwise intelligent and actually possesses unusual skills, since he manages to survive by solving difficult mathematical problems for a fee. The definition of the good forces us to admit that the good for this man is indeed counting blades of grass, or more accurately, his good is determined by a p
Tijmen Lansdaal
It's crazy what you can make out of rationalism. Read the first chapter in order to get a rough summary of what in principle the theory consists in. It's a very impressive book that picks up some substantive argumentations further down the road, but still it's not quite my cup of tea.
Mar 08, 2008 Don rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: No-one
If Rawls had understood expected utility theory this book would be better -- and unrecognisable. His response to decision making under uncertainty is iconoclastic, and absurd.
Christopher Roberts
I'll just say, like a good number of philosophers, Rawls is not a good writer. His book is repetitive and not anywhere near as concise as it could have been. I was actually rereading it this time out, having read it in school, and was not as taken with it this time out.


1. The Veil of Ignorance is a great thought experiment, one of the all time greats. Rawls establishes the Kantian idea of autonomous action perfectly. Too bad he quickly abandons Kant and instead creates something more sim
Jan 12, 2012 Joshua rated it it was ok
John Rawls presents the reader with a thought experiment based on the social contract, original position, and his very own "veil of ignorance."
So this thought experiment is a hypothetical situation that is really just a very dull gambling scheme where the players must make decisions about the structure of society. The thing that's supposed to be so revolutionary is that these players aren't aware of their position in society and they don't really know anything about their own identity, except t
Roger Lohmann
Dec 14, 2012 Roger Lohmann rated it it was amazing
This book is truly a modern classic. First published around 1970, it is the fountainhead of the modern renaissance of political philosophy and theory which is still going strong four decades later. It is built around the choices Rawls believes people would make if they were behind a veil of ignorance - unable to see the consequences of their choices. This device has by itself provoked a huge response, including Robert Nozick's very interesting Anarchy, State and Utopia with its argument for at l ...more
Nov 14, 2015 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, politics
Have only skimmed it - need help in understanding it so have bought Rawls by Freeman who is apparently an expert. My OU Masters Course is helping me to understand it more thoroughly - it does present difficulties for the current conservative libertarian approach. About to start his later works where he apparently clarifies many of his ideas. As a starting point for a fully systematic approach to creating a more complete normative theory of political society it cannot be beaten. I suggest it is r ...more
A long involved theory of justice - create a society where you would be treated fairly, if you do not know what position you would occupy in such a society.
Aug 31, 2014 Camille rated it really liked it
not for the faint of mind!
Jul 25, 2015 N rated it did not like it
I read this ... gosh, about fifteen years ago now. Something about it always bugged me.

Rawls is trying to build on Kant's theory of ethics. Kant's thing was classic Enlightenment: trying to divorce morality from Christianity. Rawls' development is the veil of ignorance - essentially a social contract based on the Golden Rule.

The question is, what's your foundation for doing unto others as you would have them do unto you? Rawls doesn't argue from Christianity, of course, nor natural law, but se
Jul 31, 2012 Ben rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
John Rawls' magnum opus 'A Theory of Justice' (this copy was the 2nd ed.) is such a staple of contemporary political and moral philosophy that it is difficult for an amateur like me to review it. Given the nature of the project Rawls sought to accomplish, it is only good and proper that a dozen years' research into both this and his other (and better, in my opinion) opus, 'Political Liberalism', would produce a decent review of Rawlsian Justice as a whole. However, as somebody who takes many of ...more
Sean Rosenthal
Interesting Quote:

"The most natural way, then, of arriving a utilitarianism (although not, of course, the only way of doing so) is to adopt for society as a whole the principle of rational choice for one man. Once this is recognized, the place of the impartial spectator and the emphasis on sympathy in the history of utilitarian thought is readily understood. For it is by the conception of the impartial spectator and the use of sympathetic identification in guiding our imagination that the princi
Ad Huikeshoven
Een theorie van rechtvaardigheid;
Rawls is a must read for anyone interested in political liberalism. A companion book would be Open society and it's enemies. Both philosophers argue that in a first best world the political system would be liberal with as much freedom for everyone as possible.
Philippe Malzieu
Feb 14, 2014 Philippe Malzieu rated it it was amazing
After medicine, I study 2 years at Paris Political Sciences Institut. I discovered Rawls there. I must say there is something of reassuring in this theory. It became automatically a classic.
After the idéology's excesses , Rawls returned to fundamentals ones. He affirmed the imprescriptible rights of each individual. And to define the relationship between individual it is the return to the social contract.
In short c' is healthy, reassuring solid. In the Nineties, it was the book of political scie
Apr 14, 2014 Nooilforpacifists rated it did not like it
Although he's liberalism's pet philosopher, the important concepts in this book are completely misguided: Not understanding economics, he basis justice on a "fairness" (the famous "veil of ignorance") dis-coupled from economic reality and markets. It fails to account for progress, productivity, and the possibility of change. In the end, Rawls was neither a philosopher, nor a moralist--he was a liberal scold, who (regrettably) lives on providing aid and co ...more
Nov 22, 2015 Aliensyntax rated it it was amazing
The notion that all men and women share in certain inviolable rights before the law is one of the most long-standing and entrenched axioms of modern democratic societies. In the main, this refers to the institutions that protect and uphold the liberty of conscience, the moral and religious ways of life, the freedoms of speech, and so on, that impart moral substance to the fabric of a social order. As a result, we tend to find ourselves with a plurality of norms and values that drive us increasin ...more
Ginan Aulia Rahman
Akhirnya saya mengalami pengajaran Rocky Gerung. Rabu 8 Oktober 2014 di kelas Filsafat Politik. Hari itu saya belajar tentang teori keadilan John Rawls. John Rawls seorang intelektual liberalis Amerika, buku Theory of justice yang ia tulis menjadi wacana yang tak habis-habis dibahas oleh pemikir teori politik dan keadilan hingga saat ini.

Ada beberapa kejadian yang melatar belakangi pemikiran John Rawls. Amerika pada saat itu sedang kacau. Sangat bebas tapi tak memiliki order yang jelas untuk me
Steven Peterson
May 13, 2011 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it
What is justice? Plato addressed this question in his epic work "The Republic." John Rawls explores this question more recently. His is acclaimed as a major work on the subject. It has produced considerable debate in philosophical circles. He uses the metaphor af a "veil of ignorance" as his starting point in exploration. An important essay on the subject of justice. . . .
Gabriel C.
Sep 12, 2016 Gabriel C. rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, bhl, jae-suk, 2016
This carefully constructed edifice is an effective demolition of utilitarianism. And Rawls, while at times dry, can also be charming and is clearly aware of the limitations of his theory and the justifications for them. Moreover, when he is describing (rather than justifying) the theory, it sounds flawed but relatively reasonable. But the justifications he presents are absolutely ridiculous, and the level of ridiculousness seems to vary directly with the attempted level of (pseudo-mathematical) ...more
Ronza Eddeeb
Jul 30, 2015 Ronza Eddeeb rated it it was ok
Okay so he talks about the concept of justice in general, soooo academic, so hard to read and soooo repetitive i didnt even finish because i died with boredom
Feb 01, 2013 Charles rated it really liked it
Shelves: academic
There are all kinds of flaws here, but it's still a stunning work. One of the most complete works of thought in the history of political philosophy.
Joey Dhaumya
May 01, 2015 Joey Dhaumya rated it really liked it
Infuriatingly repetitive at times, but a phenomenal treatise on social responsibility (in its highly nuanced sense) and justice.
Dave Munk
May 14, 2012 Dave Munk rated it did not like it
Not only does his argument not make sense, but the writing is also horrible.
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John Bordley Rawls was an American philosopher and a leading figure in moral and political philosophy. He held the James Bryant Conant University Professorship at Harvard. His magnum opus A Theory of Justice (1971) is now regarded as "one of the primary texts in political philosophy." His work in political philosophy, dubbed Rawlsianism, takes as its starting point the argument that "most reasonab ...more
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“Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust. Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others. It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many. Therefore in a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.” 28 likes
“The natural distribution is neither just nor unjust; nor is it unjust that persons are born into society at some particular position. These are simply natural facts. What is just and unjust is the way that institutions deal with these facts.” 22 likes
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