2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Must-Read for Those Interested in Pol. Philosphy
I have a definite interest in political philosophy. I read John Rawls "A Theory of Justice" (ATOJ) shortly after reading Robert Nozick's "Anarchy, State, & Utopia" (AS&U). (My review of AS&U is also available here.) I read AS&U almost immediately after realizing its existence while I was looking for reading material about libertarian ideas. I read ATOJ because, while...
Published on March 31 2002 by L. Rodney Ford
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Rawls lacks the tools to do philosophy
The book is highly influential- for this reason I gave it two stars instead of one. Its influence is about the only recommendation one can make for reading the book, as it crops up quite frequently in academia. The argument developed in the book is actually extremely poorly thought out. The task Rawls gives us, to "go behind the veil of ignorance" is an...
Published on Aug. 2 2000
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Must-Read for Those Interested in Pol. Philosphy,
This review is from: A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition (Paperback)I have a definite interest in political philosophy. I read John Rawls "A Theory of Justice" (ATOJ) shortly after reading Robert Nozick's "Anarchy, State, & Utopia" (AS&U). (My review of AS&U is also available here.) I read AS&U almost immediately after realizing its existence while I was looking for reading material about libertarian ideas. I read ATOJ because, while reading AS&U, I read a statement indicating that these two texts have been the primary catalysts of modern sociopolitical debate. Having now read both works, I can easily believe that. Also, I am, generally, in agreement with Nozick that a "night watchman" state is all that can be morally justified. I know this is a somewhat radical position in the context of today's political thinkers; therefore, I wanted to read something that presents different ideas. I chose ATOJ.
I am 37 years old. I am a software designer and programmer. I work in a very competitive commercial environment (for a company - as opposed to the government or academic environments). I have a wife and two active children with whom I gladly spend a great deal of time. I say these things to indicate that I am not in any field where my pursuit of my interest in the history of philosophy and, specifically, political philosophy is of any direct or immediate benefit and to indicate that I have relatively little time to study such things. The time I have available to read or analyze ANY work about political philosophy is very limited. However, having become very disillusioned by the two major political parties in the United States, my interest in political philosophy has been very strong over the past several years. I have learned that, if I wish to benefit from my reading to the degree that I desire, I must carefully choose what I read - I must study as efficiently as I can. I believe that I have chosen well in reading AS&U and ATOJ to gain a detailed introduction to modern (and, even, antique) political ideas. Since reading these two works, I have continued my study in many different directions, but these works are an excellent starting point. If you are similar to me in interest and responsibilities, I would highly recommend this combination of reading material as an efficient starting point.
John Rawls, in ATOJ, presents some very important and intriguing ideas. These ideas are presented well and in an organzization that is adequate to the author's purpose, with good summarization or key points. (My only criticism of AS&U in my review of it regarded the nature its organization, lack of summaries, and Nozick's tendency to digress into tangential discussions that, although interesting and important, seemed to reduce my ability to efficiently benefit from Nozick's main points.)
Rawls' presentation of the concept of the "original position" in support of his idea of "Justice as Fairness" is excellent and significant. However, I do not agree with the extrapolation of the ideas presented early in ATOJ into the design of the institutions (state) that Rawls proposes later, in Part Two, of the work.
Early in ATOJ, one might fall into the belief that John Rawls is a strong proponent of individual rights. Rawls writes "Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. Therefore in a just society the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or the calculus of social interests." He also writes "The denial of the equal liberties can be defended only when it is essential to change the conditions of civilization so that in due course these liberties can be enjoyed."
On the surface, these statements from Rawls will likely bring agreement (even excitement) from promoters and defenders of individual liberty and responsibility. However, upon examining the departments of the state that Rawls proposes later in the work, one can not maintain that agreement (or excitement). I find this (bait and switch?) characteristic to be typical of most modern liberal ideas. If you have such a good idea, why is obfuscation required to promote it?
After this, my first, reading of ATOJ, I can still not understand how Rawls extrapolated the ideas presented early in ATOJ into the state design that includes as one of its major departments one with the sole purpose of redistributing wealth. It is one thing to accept that it is morally ideal for one to seek to help (or, even, serve) others. It is quite another to believe that it is morally justified for a state to confiscate even a portion of the fruits of the labor of an individual without their consent and, potentially, for purposes that individual would find immoral. I do not mean to imply that helping or serving others is not moral. It is just that I see that there is no justification for the state forcing individuals to participate in such things.
Consider what such a state design implies. A government/state consists only of human agents. "The denial of the equal liberties" mentioned in a previous paragraph and the forced redistribution of wealth included in Rawls' state design imply that human agents of the state should be the ones that make decisions that define the level of "equal liberties" and the degree of the redistribution of wealth. No matter how you color or try to justify this, it is elitism born of collectivism - socialism, pure and simple.
I find Rawls' concept of the desired state/government to be the antithesis of the concept of individual liberty and responsibility upon which the government of the United States of America was founded. Sadly, I believe that the governments of our nation and its constituent states are currently much closer to the socialist/elitist/welfare state that has come about (partly) as a result of the influence of Rawls than they are to the "night watchman" state of Nozick. I am not completely convinced (yet, anyway) that Nozick's "night watchman" state is the best one. However, I would rather our country (at least) reverse course to move further away from socialist/elitist/welfare state and closer to the "night watchman" state.
I found that I garnered the most benefit from the sections of ATOJ that discuss civil disobedience and related topics. These sections helped me consider important ideas that I had not before considered in so complete a fashion. I believe that I now understand fully when civil disobedience is philosophically justiable and when it is not. Thank you, Mr. Rawls, for this.
5.0 out of 5 stars The most important political philosophy work ever?,
By A Customer
This review is from: A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition (Paperback)Anyone who doesn't give Rawls' Theory of Justice five stars is just being intellectually dishonest. Even if you radically diasagee with his conclusions there is no doubt that the work is a masterpiece of moral theroy and deserves to be praised as an important milestone in Western thought. Even his toughest critic, Robert Nozick, calls the book "beautiful." I happen to agree with most of what Rawls' says in the book but personally believe that similar conclusions can be drawn without referring to "the Original Position," which is important since most of the criticisms thrown at Rawls deal with this unique aspect of his theory. Nevertheless the way Rawls approaches the problem of justice is one which is clear and persuausive for even the philosophical novice...though his writing is very complex, at times almost obtuse. He wasn't interested in "entertaining" is reader. He just wanted to present his case as deeply and conviningly as possible. A true classic and masterpiece!
4.0 out of 5 stars The Soul of Liberalism,
By A Customer
This review is from: A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition (Paperback)Rawls' book is the Bible of Modern liberalism....a Kantian view of justice. Most critics and admirers put a disproportinate amount of emphasis on his so-called "difference principle," the idea that the least advantaged ought to benefit from any improvment in the station of the most advanataged. A more important and oft overlooked principle, however, is one to which Rawls gives precedence, namely, individual liberty. For those who are looking for a better sysnthesis of both Rawls' and Robert Nozick's most important ideas on liberty, read Michael Berumen's Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory. Berumen does a much better job of giving a philsophical justification for liberty, democracy, and capitalism.
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the Beach,
By A Customer
This review is from: A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition (Paperback)A modern social contract theorist, John Rawls argues that the principles of justice should be selected from behind a "veil of ignorance" that prevents the parties from knowing their class positions, natural abilities, religious identities, and so forth. With the parties shielded from bias and arbitrary influences, Rawls believes that they will chose to protect core civil liberties and to tolerate only those social inequalities that leaves less-advantaged groups better off than they would be otherwise. Once it lodges in the mind, the argument of A Theory of Justice illuminates a remarkable range of political, legal, philosophical, and economic issues. Every educated person should read the book -- but he should be warned that it is very long and that Rawls' writing is constipated and repetitive. A Theory of Justice is a classic that cries out for an intelligent abridgement.
4.0 out of 5 stars Latter Day Kantian,
By A Customer
This review is from: A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition (Paperback)Rawls TOJ is a wonderful book. His original positon under a veil of ignorance boils down to what an impartial rational mind would choose... which is betrayed by his insistance on unanimity for certain kinds of things. This is Kantianism by any other name. I think Michael Berumen's Do No Evil: Ethics, Economics, and Business is an even better book, not only on economics and business, but even in relation to pure ethics and political philosophy; he is also greatly influenced by Kant, but his is a much more realistic or doable system. His justification of liberty and of property is one of the best I have ever come across. His emphasis on the importance of irrationality in formulating moral princples is very enlightening, as is his emphasis of evil.
5.0 out of 5 stars The John Locke of the XX century,
This review is from: A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition (Paperback)John Rawls is one of the great giants of political theory of the twentieth century. His builds on the liberal tradition of social contract theories and on the rational quest for universal imperatives that could provide a solid structure for a free and democratic society in a world divided by different world views and conception of the good. In my view, this places Rawls in the lockean and kantian tradition. It is a typical "right prior to good theory", that is premissed on the equal dignity and on rational and moral competence of individuals. It is with these traits that individuals are idealized and placed in an original position behind a veil of ignorance. In this situation, where they don't know what their real position in society will be, they chose the principles that will form a just society. These principles, concerning equal rights, access to positions in government and a concern for the improvement of those worst off even when inequality increases, are the principles of justice. Much has been said about the ideal character of the original position, the ideal character of its subjects, of the assumptions of equal concern and respect that lie behind this model and about the difference principle. The thing is that Rawl's theory of justice retains its appeal, because it is ultimately premissed in the equal dignity and freedom of individuals. It is interesting that this modern liberal understanding has a strong christian element that predates Locke himself. For instance, I remenber that one of the english levellers (Walwyn of Lilburne, I'm not sure now) a contemporary of Oliver Cromwell, has a writting in which he deffends that since there are so many different opinions in matters of religion, the power in the commonwealth should rest not so much in one given interpretation of christian ortodoxy, but on a sense of justice that derives from the consideration of all individuals as equal before God, worthy of equal concern and respect even when they disagree in matters of religion. In my opinion, only a theory of justice premissed in the equal dignity and freedom of every individual can provide a strong foundation for a free, open, fair and democratic society, based on the rule of law and on human rights.
5.0 out of 5 stars Rock and Rawls,
This review is from: A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition (Paperback)I think everything I would say about this book has been said already by others-- I found it very intriguing. I'm a hard-line utilitarian, and Rawls obviously makes an interesting critique of utilitarian social organization, but I wasn't compelled to reject my views. This is a great book, but I personally prefer his Political Liberalism to this one.
A little note on Marx-- Rawls is definitely not a Marxist. Those who criticize him as such clearly don't know anything about Marx's work. Marx never actually says very much about what his communist state is going to look like, other than his belief that markets and politics will be abolished. Rawls doesn't believe in abolishing markets, and his discussion of redistribution of wealth would never be possible in a Marxist state.
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful,
This review is from: A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition (Paperback)A must read for anyone interested in contemporary political philosophy, A Theory of Justice presents a comprehensive liberal doctrine, as opposed to the political liberal doctrine that Rawls advances in Political Liberalism.
5.0 out of 5 stars great book on justice,
This review is from: A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition (Paperback)i think this book is a real corner-stone for the history of political philosophy. after reading the book you will have a new conception for justice and public order. especially his understanding of the original position is a very original for the concept of justice in the society.
5.0 out of 5 stars Justice as Fairness,
This review is from: A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition (Paperback)This is one of the most important books on social philosophy written in the last century. As the other mis-informed reviews illustrate, Rawls requires careful reading and a conviction to work through his arguments. Basically, Rawls tries to argue for a theory of Justice based on non-utilitarian principles. How can we have a Just Society that preserves individual rights and at the same time functions above the level of anarchy? Tilting too far one way results in a Communistic state that places the group above the individual. Tilting too far the other way results in a state that is a "war of all against all".
Rawls proposes that we arrive at a conception of Justice using minimal assumptions. He uses something called the "Veil of Ignorance" to derive his principles of Justice. This "Veil of Ignorance" assumes we would act in our own self-interest, but we don't know where in society we would end up. Given these two principles, people actint in their own self-interest but not knowing what place they might occupy in society, Rawls argues that we would come up with two principles of Justice; 1) each person has the most extensive basic liberties that are compatible for everyone having these liberties, and 2) social inequalities will be arranged so that they benefit everyone and such that we all have equal access to beneficial social positions.
(Some reviews here apparently feel that Rawls was trying to describe an historical situation with the Veil of Ignorance. I would suggest that they actually read Rawls.)
What Rawls is arguing is that taking a very minimal assumption about human nature (we rationally act in our own self interest) and assuming that no one knows his or her eventual social position, we will come up with these two principles of Justice (Justice as Fairness). A society is Just if it provides the most extensive set of liberties possible to everyone in the society and if it contains ways to balance social inequalities and provide equal access. Most people (even the Ann Rand folk) would agree with the first principle (equal rights), but likely have problems with the second.
Most of the people writing reviews, I believe, have not really read what Rawls has written or understood what they have read. If you want to disagree with Rawls then you must meet him with argument and reason, and not vituperative comment. I may not agree with everything in this book, but I must first understand Rawls' powerful arguments and reasoning before I can propose alternative ideas. Love him or hate him, Rawls cannot be ignored and neither can this book.
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A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition by John Rawls (Paperback - Sept. 30 1999)
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