A New Philosophy of the Just Society

Stuart Hampshire, "A New Philosophy of the Just Society," New York Review of Books, February 24, 1972.


I think that this book is the most substantial and interesting contribution to moral philosophy since the war, at least if one thinks only of works written in English. It is a very persuasive book, being very well argued and carefully composed, with possible objections and counterarguments fairly weighed and considered: at the same time it conveys a moral vision and a ruling idea, and a strongly marked personal attitude to experience. Although the book is firmly within the traditions of analytical philosophy, and has the virtue of this kind, there is no pretense of a degree of precision that the subject matter does not admit; and this has probably been one cause of the dullness of much analytical philosophy in this field.

Professor Rawls often remarks that any moral theory that is enlightening and not trivial will be an approximation to the truth at some points, and will not fit perfectly all possible cases and situations. In this field, as in so many others, one obtains instructive generalities only at the cost of some looseness of fit in peripheral cases. If the moral theory is a good one, it does clearly distinguish the central cases of justice from the peripheral ones, and it does bring the central cases into a fairly precise and intelligible relation to each other, when before they had seemed a heterogeneous collection without any center at all.

New York Review of Books