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Rawls's Practical Conception of Justice: Opinion, Tradition and Objectivity in Political Liberalism

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In Political Liberalism, Rawls emphasizes the practical character and aims of his conception of justice. Justice as fairness is to provide the basis of a reasoned, informed and willing political agreement by locating grounds for consensus in the fundamental ideas and values of the political culture. Critics urge, however, that such a politically liberal conception of justice will be designed merely to ensure the stability of political institutions by appealing to the currently-held opinions of actual citizens. In order to evaluate this concern, I suggest, it is necessary to focus on the normative character of Rawls's analysis. Rawls argues that justice as fairness is the conception of justice that citizens of modern democratic cultures should choose in reflective equilibrium, after reflecting fully upon their considered judgments regarding justice. Since judgments in reflective equilibrium are grounded in considered judgment, rather than situated opinions, I argue that the criticism fails.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Political Science University of Georgia Athens, Georgia 30602, USA, Email:


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