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Self-Realization and the Priority of Fair Equality of Opportunity

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The lexical priority of fair equality of opportunity in John Rawls’s justice as fairness, which has been sharply criticized by Larry Alexander and Richard Arneson among others, is left almost entirely undefended in Rawls’s works. I argue here that this priority rule can be successfully defended against its critics despite Rawls’s own doubts about it. Using the few textual clues he provides, I speculatively reconstruct his defense of this rule, showing that it can be grounded on our interest in self-realization through work. This reconstructed defense makes liberal use of concepts already present in A Theory of Justice, including the Aristotelian Principle (which motivates the achievement of increasing virtuosity) and the Humboldtian concept of social union (which provides the context for the development of such virtuosity). I also show that this commitment to self-realization, far from violating the priority of right in Rawls’s theory, stems directly from his underlying commitment to autonomy, which is the very foundation of the moral law in his doctrine of right. The reconstituted defense of this priority rule not only strengthens the case for justice as fairness but also has important and controversial implications for public policy.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Political Science, University of California, Davis, CA 95616-8682, USA, Email: rstaylor@ucdavis.edu

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