Study Questions for John Rawls' A Theory of Justice
in Cahn and Markie, eds., Ethics (2009)

by Dr. Jan Garrett

Revised August 1, 2010

The numbers following the questions correspond to the page numbers and columns in the text.

For other materials on John Rawls' A Theory of Justice, see the Ethical Theories section of the PHIL 350 website and Dialogues 7, 8, and 12 in the Dialogues section of the home page for this course.

1. What is the guiding idea of the theory of justice? (515.1)

2. What does Rawls mean by Justice as Fairness (515.1)

3. What is the relation between the Original Position in Rawls and the state of nature in traditional social contract theory? (515.2)

4. What is to happen after persons have chosen a conception of justice? (516.1) When is "our social situation just"? (ibid.)

5. What is Rawls' reason for not supporting utilitarianism as a basis for a theory of justice? (517.1)

6. Of what two main parts does justice as fairness consist (517.2)

7. How does Rawls understand what he calls the original position— what general conditions must such a device meet? (518-19, § 4)

8. What are the two principles of justice? (523.1) What liberties are covered by the liberty principle? (523.1-2) Can they be unequally distributed? (523.2)

9. To what does the second principle apply? Are inequalities permitted under the second principle? (523.2)

10. What serial order does Rawls' insist upon among the principles? (523.2)

11. What does Rawls mean by "primary goods"? Are these more like instrumental goods or intrinsic goods? (Explain.) (524.1)

12. What does Rawls mean by "principle of the fair equality of opportunity"? "difference principle"? (525.1-2; see also 523.1 Second Principle (a) and (b).)

13. How does Rawls argue that liberties ought normally not to be diminished in order to increase social and economic gains? (524.1-2)

14. How does Rawls understand democratic equality? (525.1-2)

15. Why is pure procedural justice important in the investigation of justice? (527.2 bottom-528.1)

16. What is the veil of ignorance? What sorts of facts do the parties [to the Original Position] not know? (528.1) What must they choose? (528.1)

17. What do they know? (528.1-2)

18. Why does Rawls say that a conception of justice is stable? (528.2)

19. What motivation assumption does Rawls add to handle justice between generations? (529.2)

20. Why, in general, would the parties in the Original Position choose the two principles of justice listed on p. 523.1? (530-531)