Study Questions on Rawls
and Rawlsian Terms for Review
Rawls' Mature Theory of Social Justice: An Introduction for Students
and Rawls on Moral Principles for Individuals both on this website
Revised March 7, 2002
1. What kinds of beings make up the social order in whose justice (or lack thereof) John Rawls is interested?
2. How do persons get into or leave the social order?
3. What are the two moral powers every person has?
4. Which of the two moral powers is most directly concerned with fair terms of cooperation?
5. Which of the two moral powers is a capacity for a notion of what is valuable in life?
6. How does Rawls characterize a comprehensive doctrine? Which of the two moral powers relates most directly to a person's comprehensive doctrine?
7. What issues does a political conception of justice address?
8. What issues does a comprehensive doctrine address that a political conception of justice would not address?
9. What does Rawls mean by "the basic structure" of society?
10. Why is a political conception of justice a "freestanding view"?
11. What characterizes reasonable citizens? Pick three of the most important features.
12. How does a reasonable comprehensive doctrine differ from an unreasonable comprehensive doctrine, as Rawls uses those terms? What would reasonable persons (who have reasonable comprehensive doctrines) think it especially unreasonable to do?
13. What three scenarios or situations do all social contract theories distinguish? How, briefly, are they distinguished in Rawls?
14. Why are the persons imagined in the Original Position called representatives?
15. What is their task related to the real social order?
16. What does it mean to say that they are behind the "veil of ignorance"?
17. What general knowledge do they have? What sorts of things do they know about human social and historical possibilities?
18. Why is the first principle that would be chosen from the Original Position known as the "Equal Liberties Principle"?
19. How is the equal opportunity principle stated? Why would the representatives in the Original Principle favor a principle like that?
20. How is the difference principle (the second part of the second principle) stated? Does the difference principle permit some persons to have more power and earn more money than others? What occurrences is the difference principle designed to prevent?
The last question under #20 is not fully addressed yet in the "Primer." For more comments on the difference principle see Rawls' Principles of Justice. Note: this companion site is based on the early (1971) version of Rawls' theory. Rawls has modified some of his formulations since then.
21. Why are the equal opportunity principle and the difference principle grouped together?
22. What does Rawls have in mind by "the priority of liberty"?
23. Which of the specific liberties Rawls describes enable people to use their capacity for a conception of the good? Explain.
24. Which of the specific liberties Rawls describes are most closely related to the capacity that persons have for a sense of justice?
25. What concern does Rawls have when he says that political liberties must be secured by their "fair value"? What changes in the way elections are conducted in the United States does Rawls' Liberties principle endorse?
26. How far, according to Rawls, does the principle of equal liberties go toward supporting rights to property? On what issue regarding property does Rawls say that the two principles, by themselves, are noncommittal?
Terms related to Rawls' Moral/Political Philosophy and Conception of Justice
One way to check your knowledge of Rawls' philosophy is to make sure that you understand the meaning of these terms. Can you define them or use them correctly in a number of sentences that express Rawls' views?
* sense of justice
* conception of the good
* comprehensive doctrine
* "political" conception of justice
* reasonable citizens
* reasonable comprehensive doctrine
* unreasonable comprehensive doctrine
* basic structure of society
* fully cooperating members of society
* two moral powers
* political liberties
* fair value of political liberties
* original position
* veil of ignorance
* representative persons
* two principles of justice
* Equal Liberties Principle
* Equal Opportunities (part of 2nd principle)
* Difference Principle (part of 2nd principle)
* Principle of Fairness (See Rawls on Moral Principles for Individuals.)
* obligation (See Rawls on Moral Principles for Individuals.)