John Rawls’s major work, A Theory of Justice (1971, revised 1999), still sets the current agenda of issues to be discussed in any theory of justice and provides the terminology in which much policy debate proceeds. Rawls combines a sophisticated (initially contractarian) methodology with attractive substantive views on what is just. This chapter focuses primarily on the ‘early Rawls’ in which the contractual element is more central, but it also brings in some of the ‘later Rawls’ (principally Rawls 1980, 1993, 1999b) in which the emphasis is more on the standards of public reason appropriate to a liberal democracy. Care is taken to point out that it is to some extent possible to evaluate separately Rawls’s approaches to the epistemology of justice from the details of his substantive views as to what is just, and vice versa. Nevertheless, the historical impact of Rawls’s theory has depended largely on its combination of a promising methodology and the attractive principles of justice derived by means of that method.
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