Volume 1, Issue 3, 2001
The Philosophy of John Rawls
Giovanni De Grandis
Making Sense of A Theory of Justice
The primary aim of this interpretive essay is to reconstruct some of the most important features of Rawls’s theory of justice, and to offer a hypothesis about how its assumptions and arguments are tied together in a highly structured construction. An almost philological approach is adopted to highlight Rawlsian ideas. First, I consider in what sense Rawls is an individualist and in what sense he is not. From
this I conclude that he ought not be charged of psychological egoism or atomism. Then I consider the role of rational choice, the contract and the relation of the latter to the criterion of reflective equilibrium. Here, pride of place is given to the reflexive method, while the role of contract and rational choice, though not denied, is downgraded. Finally, I enquire whether Rawls can be considered a universalist, and suggest that this category, owing to the theory’s practical aim and pragmatic method, is of little use. If successful, my reconstruction should offer a better insight into the theory and dispel some possible misunderstandings. But my presentation should not be read as either an assessment or a defense.