a1 Philosophy, University of Arizona
In the wake of G. A. Cohen's masterful critique of Rawls's work, this paper discusses Rawlsian justice in general and the difference principle in particular. It argues that Rawlsian arguments for the difference principle present a puzzle and that to respond adequately to the puzzle we must engage in rational reconstruction. After explaining the puzzle and considering and rejecting a number of responses to it, the paper begins its reconstructive project. It presents the case for viewing the difference principle as a maximizing prioritarian principle of justice, one that that contains no trace of commitment to equality as a distributive norm. The paper concludes by bringing out some of the implications of viewing Rawlsian justice in this light.
Steven Wall is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona, where he is also a member of the Freedom Center. Before beginning work at the University of Arizona, he taught philosophy at Kansas State University, Bowling Green State University, and the University of Connecticut. He is the author of Liberalism, Perfectionism and Restraint (1998), and the editor of Perfectionism and Neutrality [with George Klosko] (2003) and Reasons for Action [with David Sobel] (2009).
* Earlier versions of this essay were presented to audiences at a number of venues: the philosophy department at the University of Connecticut, the first annual NOISE conference in New Orleans, the political philosophy colloquium series at Brown University, and the philosophy department at the University of Arizona. Thanks to all participants at these events for their comments and criticisms. Special thanks go to Jeff Moriarity, who served as a discussant for the paper at the NOISE conference. I am grateful to my fellow conference participants for their responses to the essay, and I am especially grateful to Ellen Frankel Paul for her expert editorial interventions. Finally, while it no doubt falls short of his high standards, this essay is a tribute to G. A. Cohen, who sadly is no longer with us. Jerry was one of my teachers in graduate school. He not only helped me to come to a better understanding of Rawlsian justice, but also renewed my excitement and interest in the kind of political philosophy at which he excelled.