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Philosophy Research Archives

Volume 11, 1985

Larry A. Alexander
Pages 197-208

Fair Equality of Opportunity
John Rawls’ (Best) Forgotten Principle

Although discussions of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice generally refer to Rawls’ two principles of justice, and although Rawls himself labels his principles “the two principles of justice”, Rawls actually sets forth three distinct principles in the following lexical order: the liberty principle, the fair equality of opportunity principle, and the difference principle. Rawls argues at some length for the priority of the liberty principle over the other two. On the other hand, Rawls offers hardly any argument at all for the priority of the fair equality of opportunity principle over the difference principle. In this article I will argue that making the fair equality of opportunity principle separate from and lexically prior to the difference principle is both intuitively unattractive and inconsistent with Rawls’ method of deriving principles of justice from the choices of rational contractors in the original position.

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