Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical

John Rawls, "Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical," Philosophy and Public Affairs 14 (1985): 223–51.

In this discussion I shall make some general remarks about how I now understand the conception of justice that I have called “justice as fairness” (presented in my book A Theory of Justice). I do this because it may seem that this conception depends on philosophical claims I should like to avoid, for example, claims to universal truth, or claims about the essential nature and identity of persons. My aim is to explain why it does not. I shall first discuss what I regard as the task of political philosophy at the present time and then briefly survey how the basic intuitive ideas drawn upon in justice as fairness are combined into a political conception of justice for a constitutional democracy. Doing this would bring out how and why this conception of justice avoids certain philosophical and metaphysical claims. Briefly, the idea is that in a constitutional democracy the public conception of justice should be, so far as possible, independent of controversial philosophical and religious doctrines. Thus, to formulate such a conception, we apply the principle of toleration to philosophy itself: the public conception of justice is to be political, not metaphysical. Hence the title.

University of California, San Diego [pdf]