Volume 41, 1998
Rawls’ Concept Of Justice As Political
A Defense Against Critics
Rawls' theory of justice as fairness involves a central contention that principles of justice essential to the structure of a constitutional democracy must be viewed as political in contrast to more comprehensive moral, philosophical or religious doctrines. The concept of justice is not its being true to an antecedent moral order and given to us, but its being congruent with our self-understanding within the history of justice as political is not a mere modus vivendi, for it embodies an overlapping consensus that does have a moral basis. Critical reaction to Rawls has been that what is simply a consensus within a tradition of public discourse cannot afford an adequate criteria of moral justification, and that Rawls cannot define the moral basis for justice as fairness without some reference to a comprehensive theory of the good. But it will be argued that critics are missing what is central to Rawls' theory of moral justification as what he sees to be the outcome of a process of "wide reflective equilibrium" in which principles of justice initially given within a tradition are weighed against rival moral theories and in relation to scientific theories of human nature and society in order to establish what seems "most reasonable to us."