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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 20, 1998

Philosophy and Gender

Mary Lyn Stoll
Pages 83-89

Rawlsian Stability & Feminism

In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls defends two principles of justice, in part by an appeal to stability. Rawls claims that coupled with the publicity condition, the two principles are preferable because they are more likely to encourage stability than are average utilitarian theories. Rawls' radical and feminist opponents have found this appeal to stability problematic since they believe that achieving justice may sometimes necessitate the destabilization of society. Moreover, utilitarian critics argue that even if stability is granted as justification for a theory of justice, it seems at least plausible that institutions structured according to an average utilitarian conception of justice could yield a society that is just as stable. I will argue that with an accurate understanding of Rawls' appeal to stability, these sorts of criticisms lose their strength, and Rawls' argument for the stability of his two principles over average utilitarianism appears that much more convincing. Thus, by getting clear on what Rawls' appeal to stability entails, we gain a fuller understanding of his theory and its justification. Finally, I will consider a revised feminist critique that appeals to the appropriate understanding of stability and go on to suggest how Rawls might respond to such a critique.

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