A Theory of Justice

work of political philosophy and ethics by John Rawls

A Theory of Justice is a work of political philosophy and ethics by John Rawls. It was originally published in 1971 and revised in both 1975 (for the translated editions) and 1999.

Revised Edition (1999)


Preface for the Revised Edition

  • In the revisions I made in 1975 I removed certain weaknesses in the original edition. These I shall now try to indicate, although I am afraid much of what I say will not be intelligible without some prior knowledge of the text. Leaving this concern aside, one of the most serious weaknesses was in the account of liberty, the defects of which were pointed out by H. L. A. Hart in his critical discussion of 1973. Beginning with §11, I made revisions to clear up several of the difficulties Hart noted. It must be said, however, that the account in the revised text, although considerably improved, is still not fully satisfactory. A better version is found in a later essay of 1982 entitled “The Basic Liberties and Their Priority.”3 This essay attempts to answer what I came to regard as Hart’s most important objections. The basic rights and liberties and their priority are there said to guarantee equally for all citizens the social conditions essential for the adequate development and the full and informed exercise of their two moral powers—their capacity for a sense of justice and their capacity for a conception of the good—in what I call the two fundamental cases.
  • A second serious weakness of the original edition was its account of primary goods. These were said to be things that rational persons want whatever else they want, and what these were and why was to be explained by the account of goodness in Chapter VII. Unhappily that account left it ambiguous whether something’s being a primary good depends solely on the natural facts of human psychology or whether it also depends on a moral conception of the person that embodies a certain ideal. This ambiguity is to be resolved in favor of the latter: persons are to be viewed as having two moral powers (those mentioned above) and as having higher-order interests in developing and exercising those powers.


  • During much of modern moral philosophy the predominant systematic theory has been some form of utilitarianism.
  • We sometimes forget that the great utilitarians, Hume and Adam Smith, Bentham and Mill, were social theorists and economists of the first rank; and the moral doctrine they worked out was framed to meet the needs of their wider interests and to fit into a comprehensive scheme. Those who criticized them often did so on a much narrower front. They pointed out the obscurities of the principle of utility and noted the apparent incongruities between many of its implications and our moral sentiments. But they failed, I believe, to construct a workable and systematic moral conception to oppose it. The outcome is that we often seem forced to choose between utilitarianism and intuitionism.
  • What I have attempted to do is to generalize and carry to a higher order of abstraction the traditional theory of the social contract as represented by Locke, Rousseau, and Kant. In this way I hope that the theory can be developed so that it is no longer open to the more obvious objections often thought fatal to it. Moreover, this theory seems to offer an alternative systematic account of justice that is superior, or so I argue, to the dominant utilitarianism of the tradition.
  • This is a long book, not only in pages.

Ch. 1 : Justice as Fairness


1. The Role of Justice

  • Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust. Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others.
  • Being first virtues of human activities, truth and justice are uncompromising.
  • A set of principles is required for choosing among the various social arrangements which determine this division of advantages and for underwriting an agreement on the proper distributive shares. These principles are the principles of social justice: they provide a way of assigning rights and duties in the basic institutions of society and they define the appropriate distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation.
  • Now let us say that a society is well-ordered when it is not only designed to advance the good of its members but when it is also effectively regulated by a public conception of justice. That is, it is a society in which (1) everyone accepts and knows that the others accept the same principles of justice, and (2) the basic social institutions generally satisfy and are generally known to satisfy these principles.
  • Men disagree about which principles should define the basic terms of their association. Yet we may still say, despite this disagreement, that they each have a conception of justice.
  • Those who hold different conceptions of justice can, then, still agree that institutions are just when no arbitrary distinctions are made between persons in the assigning of basic rights and duties and when the rules determine a proper balance between competing claims to the advantages of social life.
  • So while the distinctive role of conceptions of justice is to specify basic rights and duties and to determine the appropriate distributive shares, the way in which a conception does this is bound to affect the problems of efficiency, coordination, and stability.

2. The Subject of Justice

  • For us the primary subject of justice is the basic structure of society, or more exactly, the way in which the major social institutions distribute fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages from social cooperation.

3. The Main Idea of the Theory of Justice

  • My aim is to present a conception of justice which generalizes and carries to a higher level of abstraction the familiar theory of the social contract as found, say, in Locke, Rousseau, and Kant.
  • The choice which rational men would make in this hypothetical situation of equal liberty, assuming for the present that this choice problem has a solution, determines the principles of justice.
  • In justice as fairness the original position of equality corresponds to the state of nature in the traditional theory of the social contract. This original position is not, of course, thought of as an actual historical state of affairs, much less as a primitive condition of culture. It is understood as a purely hypothetical situation characterized so as to lead to a certain conception of justice. Among the essential features of this situation is that no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does any one know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance. This ensures that no one is advantaged or disadvantaged in the choice of principles by the outcome of natural chance or the contingency of social circumstances.
  • One feature of justice as fairness is to think of the parties in the initial situation as rational and mutually disinterested.
  • The problem of the choice of principles, however, is extremely difficult. I do not expect the answer I shall suggest to be convincing to everyone. It is, therefore, worth noting from the outset that justice as fairness, like other contract views, consists of two parts: (1) an interpretation of the initial situation and of the problem of choice posed there, and (2) a set of principles which, it is argued, would be agreed to.
  • The merit of the contract terminology is that it conveys the idea that principles of justice may be conceived as principles that would be chosen by rational persons, and that in this way conceptions of justice may be explained and justified. The theory of justice is a part, perhaps the most significant part, of the theory of rational choice.
  • Justice as fairness is not a complete contract theory. For it is clear that the contractarian idea can be extended to the choice of more or less an entire ethical system, that is, to a system including principles for all the virtues and not only for justice.

4. The Original Position and Justification

  • A problem of rational decision has a definite answer only if we know the beliefs and interests of the parties, their relations with respect to one another, the alternatives between which they are to choose, the procedure whereby they make up their minds, and so on. As the circumstances are presented in different ways, correspondingly different principles are accepted. The concept of the original position, as I shall refer to it, is that of the most philosophically favored interpretation of this initial choice situation for the purposes of a theory of justice.
  • It seems reasonable to suppose that the parties in the original position are equal. That is, all have the same rights in the procedure for choosing principles; each can make proposals, submit reasons for their acceptance, and so on.
  • We shall want to say that certain principles of justice are justified because they would be agreed to in an initial situation of equality. I have emphasized that this original position is purely hypothetical.

5. Classical Utilitarianism

  • It is essential to keep in mind that in a teleological theory the good is defined independently from the right. This means two things. First, the theory accounts for our considered judgments as to which things are good (our judgments of value) as a separate class of judgments intuitively distinguishable by common sense, and then proposes the hypothesis that the right is maximizing the good as already specified. Second, the theory enables one to judge the goodness of things without referring to what is right.
  • The striking feature of the utilitarian view of justice is that it does not matter, except indirectly, how this sum of satisfactions is distributed among individuals any more than it matters, except indirectly, how one man distributes his satisfactions over time.
  • The most natural way, then, of arriving at utilitarianism (although not, of course, the only way of doing so) is to adopt for society as a whole the principle of rational choice for one man.

6. Some Related Contrasts

  • Justice as fairness attempts to account for these common sense convictions concerning the priority of justice by showing that they are the con sequence of principles which would be chosen in the original position.
  • Although the utilitarian recognizes that, strictly speaking, his doctrine conflicts with these sentiments of justice, he maintains that common sense precepts of justice and notions of natural right have but a subordinate validity as secondary rules; they arise from the fact that under the conditions of civilized society there is great social utility in following them for the most part and in permitting violations only under exceptional circumstances.
  • A second contrast is that whereas the utilitarian extends to society the principle of choice for one man, justice as fairness, being a contract view, assumes that the principles of social choice, and so the principles of justice, are themselves the object of an original agreement.
  • The utilitarians were strong defenders of liberty and freedom of thought, and they held that the good of society is constituted by the advantages enjoyed by individuals. Yet utilitarianism is not individualistic, at least when arrived at by the more natural course of reflection, in that, by conflating all systems of desires, it applies to society the principle of choice for one man.
  • The last contrast that I shall mention now is that utilitarianism is a teleological theory whereas justice as fairness is not. By definition, then, the latter is a deontological theory, one that either does not specify the good independently from the right, or does not interpret the right as maximizing the good.
  • This priority of the right over the good in justice as fairness turns out to be a central feature of the conception. It imposes certain criteria on the design of the basic structure as a whole; these arrangements must not tend to generate propensities and attitudes contrary to the two principles of justice (that is, to certain principles which are given from the first a definite content) and they must insure that just institutions are stable.

7. Institutionalism

  • While the complexity of the moral facts requires a number of distinct principles, there is no single standard that accounts for them or assigns them their weights. Intuitionist theories, then, have two features: first, they consist of a plurality of first principles which may conflict to give contrary directives in particular types of cases; and second, they include no explicit method, no priority rules, for weighing these principles against one another: we are simply to strike a balance by intuition, by what seems to us most nearly right. Or if there are priority rules, these are thought to be more or less trivial and of no substantial assistance in reaching a judgment.
  • A refutation of intuitionism consists in presenting the sort of constructive criteria that are said not to exist. To be sure, the notion of a recognizably ethical principle is vague, although it is easy to give many examples drawn from tradition and common sense. But it is pointless to discuss this matter in the abstract. The intuitionist and his critic will have to settle this question once the latter has put forward his more systematic account.
  • The distinctive feature, then, of intuitionistic views is not their being teleological or deontological, but the especially prominent place that they give to the appeal to our intuitive capacities unguided by constructive and recognizably ethical criteria. Intuitionism denies that there exists any useful and explicit solution to the priority problem.

8. The Priority Problem

  • The first point is connected with the fact that the principles of justice are those which would be chosen in the original position. They are the outcome of a certain choice situation.
  • A second possibility is that we may be able to find principles which can be put in what I shall call a serial or lexical order. … This is an order which requires us to satisfy the first principle in the ordering before we can move on to the second, the second before we consider the third, and so on. A principle does not come into play until those previous to it are either fully met or do not apply.
  • Certainly the concept of a lexical, or serial, order does not offhand seem very promising. Indeed, it appears to offend our sense of moderation and good judgment. Moreover, it presupposes that the principles in the order be of a rather special kind.
  • Finally, the dependence on intuition can be reduced by posing more limited questions and by substituting prudential for moral judgment. Thus someone faced with the principles of an intuitionist conception may reply that without some guidelines for deliberation he does not know what to say.

9. Some Remarks about Moral Theory

  • Intuitionism is not constructive, perfectionism is unacceptable. My conjecture is that the contract doctrine properly worked out can fill this gap. I think justice as fairness an endeavor in this direction.

Ch. 2 : The Principles of Justice

  • The theory of justice may be divided into two main parts: (1) an interpretation of the initial situation and a formulation of the various principles available for choice there, and (2) an argument establishing which of these principles would in fact be adopted.

10. Institutions and Formal Justice

  • Rational strategies and maxims are based upon an analysis of which permissible actions individuals and groups will decide upon in view of their interests, beliefs, and conjectures about one another’s plans. These strategies and maxims are not themselves part of the institution. Rather they belong to the theory of it, for example, to the theory of parliamentary politics. Normally the theory of an institution, just as that of a game, takes the constitutive rules as given and analyzes the way in which power is distributed and explains how those engaged in it are likely to avail themselves of its opportunities.

11. Two Principles of Justice

  • The first statement of the two principles reads as follows.
    First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive scheme of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for others.
    Second: social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all.
  • Whether men are free is determined by the rights and duties established by the major institutions of society. Liberty is a certain pattern of social forms. The first principle simply requires that certain sorts of rules, those defining basic liberties, apply to everyone equally and that they allow the most extensive liberty compatible with a like liberty for all.

12. Interpretations of the Second Principle

“Everyone’s advantage”
“Equally open” Principles of efficiency Difference principle
Equality as careers open to talents System of Natural Liberty Natural Aristocracy
Equality as equality of fair opportunity Liberal Equality Democratic Equality
  • The liberal interpretation of the two principles seeks, then, to mitigate the influence of social contingencies and natural fortune on distributive shares. To accomplish this end it is necessary to impose further basic structural conditions on the social system. Free market arrangements must be set within a framework of political and legal institutions which regulates the overall trends of economic events and preserves the social conditions necessary for fair equality of opportunity.
  • Now both the liberal conception and that of natural aristocracy are unstable. For once we are troubled by the influence of either social con tingencies or natural chance on the determination of distributive shares, we are bound, on reflection, to be bothered by the influence of the other. From a moral standpoint the two seem equally arbitrary. So however we move away from the system of natural liberty, we cannot be satisfied short of the democratic conception.

13. Democratic Equality and The Difference Principle

  • What, then, can possibly justify this kind of initial inequality in life prospects? According to the difference principle, it is justifiable only if the difference in expectation is to the advantage of the representative man who is worse off, in this case the representative unskilled worker. The inequality in expectation is permissible only if lowering it would make the working class even more worse off.
  • First of all, in applying it, one should distinguish between two cases. The first case is that in which the expectations of the least advantaged are indeed maximized (subject, of course, to the mentioned constraints). No changes in the expectations of those better off can improve the situation of those worst off. The best arrangement obtains, what I shall call a perfectly just scheme. The second case is that in which the expectations of all those better off at least contribute to the welfare of the more unfortunate. That is, if their expectations were decreased, the prospects of the least advantaged would likewise fall. Yet the maximum is not yet achieved. Even higher expectations for the more advantaged would raise the expectations of those in the lowest position. Such a scheme is, I shall say, just throughout, but not the best just arrangement. A scheme is unjust when the higher expectations, one or more of them, are excessive. If these expectations were decreased, the situation of the least favored would be improved.

14. Fair Equality of Opportunity and Pure Procedural Justice

  • First, though, I should note that the reasons for requiring open positions are not solely, or even primarily, those of efficiency. I have not maintained that offices must be open if in fact everyone is to benefit from an arrangement. For it may be possible to improve everyone’s situation by assigning certain powers and benefits to positions despite the fact that certain groups are excluded from them.
  • Now I have said that the basic structure is the primary subject of justice. Of course, any ethical theory recognizes the importance of the basic structure as a subject of justice, but not all theories regard its importance in the same way. In justice as fairness society is interpreted as a cooperative venture for mutual advantage.
  • The role of the principle of fair opportunity is to insure that the system of cooperation is one of pure procedural justice. Unless it is satisfied, distributive justice could not be left to take care of itself, even within a restricted range.
  • A distribution cannot be judged in isolation from the system of which it is the outcome or from what individuals have done in good faith in the light of established expectations.

15. Primary Social Goods as The Basis of Expectations

  • The difference principle tries to establish objective grounds for interpersonal comparisons in two ways. First of all, as long as we can identify the least advantaged representative man, only ordinal judgments of wellbeing are required from then on. We know from what position the social system is to be judged. It does not matter how much worse off this representative individual is than the others. The further difficulties of cardinal measurement do not arise since no other interpersonal comparisons are necessary. The difference principle, then, asks less of our judgments of welfare. We never have to calculate a sum of advantages involving a cardinal measure. While qualitative interpersonal comparisons are made in finding the bottom position, for the rest the ordinal judgments of one representative man suffice.
    Second, the difference principle introduces a simplification for the basis of interpersonal comparisons. These comparisons are made in terms of expectations of primary social goods. In fact, I define these expectations simply as the index of these goods which a representative individual can look forward to. One man’s expectations are greater than another’s if this index for some one in his position is greater. Now primary goods, as I have already remarked, are things which it is supposed a rational man wants whatever else he wants.
  • Let us consider several difficulties. One problem clearly is the construction of the index of primary social goods. Assuming that the two principles of justice are serially ordered, this problem is greatly simplified. The basic liberties are always equal, and there is fair equality of opportunity; one does not need to balance these liberties and rights against other values. The primary social goods that vary in their distribution are the rights and prerogatives of authority, and income and wealth. But the difficulties are not so great as they might seem at first because of the nature of the difference principle.
  • Another difficulty is this. It may be objected that expectations should not be defined as an index of primary goods anyway but rather as the satisfactions to be expected when plans are executed using these goods. After all, it is in the fulfillment of these plans that men gain happiness, and therefore the estimate of expectations should not be founded on the available means. Justice as fairness, however, takes a different view. For it does not look behind the use which persons make of the rights and opportunities available to them in order to measure, much less to maximize, the satisfactions they achieve.

16. Relevant Social Positions

  • The relevant social positions specify, then, the general point of view from which the two principles of justice are to be applied to the basic structure. In this way everyone’s interests are taken into account, for each person is an equal citizen and all have a place in the distribution of income and wealth or in the range of fixed natural characteristics upon which distinctions are based. Some selection of relevant positions is necessary for a coherent theory of social justice and the ones chosen should accord with its first principles. By selecting the so-called starting places one follows out the idea of mitigating the effects of natural accident and social circumstance. No one is to benefit from these contingencies except in ways that redound to the well-being of others.

17. The Tendency to Equality

  • The natural distribution is neither just nor unjust; nor is it unjust that persons are born into society at some particular position. These are simply natural facts. What is just and unjust is the way that institutions deal with these facts.
  • We do not deserve our place in the distribution of native endowments, any more than we deserve our initial starting place in society. That we deserve the superior character that enables us to make the effort to cultivate our abilities is also problematic; for such character depends in good part upon fortunate family and social circumstances in early life for which we can claim no credit.

18. Principles for Individuals: The Principle of Fairness

  • Therefore, to establish a complete conception of right, the parties in the original position are to choose in a definite order not only a conception of justice but also principles to go with each major concept falling under the concept of right.

19. Principles for Individuals: The Natural Duties

  • From the standpoint of justice as fairness, a fundamental natural duty is the duty of justice.
  • In fact, once the full set of principles, a complete conception of right, is on hand, we can simply forget about the conception of original position and apply these principles as we would any others.

Quotes about A Theory of Justice

  • No work of modern political philosophy, in any language, has generated such an enormous output of learned commentary as John Rawls's Theory of Justice. After some twenty years of uninterrupted critical flow, Rawls's new book is billed as a correction of the original, in the light of subsequent discussion. Political Liberalism offers abundant – even super-abundant – evidence of careful response to the reception of A Theory of Justice, in a forest of footnotes to different readings of it. But the attention proves selective, and the result disconcerting. Rawls's pristine theory argued for two fundamental principles of justice: first in order – equal political rights and liberties for all, and second – only such social or economic inequalities as are compatible with equal opportunity, and yield most benefit to the least well-off. These principles, Rawls maintained, would infallibly be chosen by us if we were to imagine ourselves deciding the form of a just society from the hypothetical standpoint of an ‘original position’, without any knowledge of what might be our particular lot within it. Around this core doctrine, conceived as an updated variant of Kantian constructivism to supersede all latter-day forms of utilitarian calculus, Rawls developed a capacious intellectual edifice, culminating in ethical reflections of noble scope.
    • Perry Anderson, Spectrum: From Right to Left in the World of Ideas (2005), Ch. 4 : Designing Consensus: John Rawls
  • In the advanced capitalist countries of today, the claims of absolute need are rarer than those of relative deprivation. How satisfactory is Rawls's formula for meeting these? The 'difference principle' – warranting only those inequalities which are to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged – is the most memorable single thesis of A Theory of Justice. But what is its actual import? The massive ambiguity of the Rawlsian theory of justice lies at precisely this point. Is the difference principle a powerful call for an all but socialist redistribution of income – since, on one reading, so little of the glaring disparities of wealth that surround us contributes to the well-being of the poor? Or is it, on another reading, simply a sensible defence of the normal operation of capitalism – whose constant increase of productivity, raising general living standards, requires precisely the incentive structures, tried and tested by experience, we have today? To grasp the full depth of the indeterminacy at the crux of Rawls's construction, it is enough to note that it can be applauded imperturbably at one extreme by John Roemer on the Left, and at another by Friedrich Hayek on the Right, each contending that its message coincides with their own. Clearly, both cannot be right. But Rawls's Theory, in which the legitimacy of socialism can be mooted on one page and American society held nearly just on the next, leaves space for either view. It might be said that, within its framework, the difference principle is politically indifferent.
    • Perry Anderson, Spectrum: From Right to Left in the World of Ideas (2005), Ch. 4 : Designing Consensus: John Rawls
  • It is impossible to say what institutions, laws, policies, and ideas are most likely to guide humanity in the future. In his later years, Hayek gave some consideration to the work of John Rawls, who would perhaps be considered, together with Hayek and Leo Strauss, one of the three greatest political philosophers of the twentieth century. Rawls had a highly liberal (in a twentieth-century sense) perspective. His idea of a “difference principle” (sometimes also referred to as “maximin”—maximizing the status of the minimum class) may prove lasting.
    This Rawlsian idea is that society’s laws and rules should be structured so that those who are least well off in the society in question would have the highest standard of living as in any other possible society at the point in time. While Rawls thought that this would, empirically, result in societies in which material rewards would be quite evenly possessed, there is no reason that this should necessarily be the case.
    • Alan Ebenstein, Hayek's Journey: The Mind of Friedrich Hayek (2003), Conclusion
  • The point of one of [Rawls’] main constructions—the introduction of the “veil of ignorance”—is precisely to exclude from consideration empirical information that might prejudice the overriding normative force of the outcome. It is, then, extremely striking, not to say astounding, to the lay reader that the complex theoretical apparatus of Theory of Justice, operating through over 500 pages of densely argued text, eventuates in a constitutional structure that is a virtual replica (with some extremely minor deviations) of the arrangements that exist in the United States.
  • If the basic assumption of the theory of ideology is at all tenable, namely, that the general power relations embodied in our social structures can exert a distorting influence on the formation of our beliefs and preferences without our being aware of it, then we are definitely not going to put that kind of influence out of action by asking the agents in the society to imagine that they didn’t know their position. To think otherwise is to believe in magic: imagine you are “impartial” and you will be. In fact, doing that will be more likely to reinforce the power of these entrenched prejudices because it will explicitly present them as universal, warranted by reason, etc.
  • Since the publication of John Rawls’s monumental book A Theory of Justice in 1971, such grand theories of distributive justice have gained momentum and depth. Rawls himself defended an egalitarian position. He articulated it in his famous difference principle, according to which deviations from strict equality may be allowed only if such deviations will work for the benefit of the worst-off. According to Rawls, perfect equality should have been the rule, but rewarding capable people with differential income will create an incentive for them to raise the production of the sum total of goods, which in a system of fair distribution might end up benefiting the people who are at the bottom of the economic ladder.
  • Liberal theory, over the past quarter-century, has been dominated by the work of John Rawls. For the most part, political theorists have approached liberalism by considering the problems, methods, and conclusions developed by Rawls in A Theory of Justice.
    • Chandran Kukathas, "Hayek and liberalism", in Edward Feser (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Hayek (2006)
  • The most famous modern assertion of the conflict between utilitarian and justice-based considerations is contained in John Rawls's masterpiece, A Theory of Justice... Rawls begins from Hume's and Mill's premisses, but reaches very different conclusions. Like them, he sees justice as regulating the results of social co-operation; unlike Plato, he does not think of justice as operating 'within the soul'. Justice is institutional and political; we co-operate with one another within an institutional framework, and that framework dictates the broad outlines of the results.
  • John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice (1971) changed everything. It showed not only that ethical theory could be treated with analytical sophistication and applied to issues of vital social concern but also that Kantian ideas were indispensable to doing this in the right way. Rawls’s thought never stagnated, however. He continued reflecting on how the Kantian liberal tradition can best be articulated in the late twentieth century.
  • Rawls’s interpretation of Kant himself as a “constructivist” in moral theory has been very influential in the way Kant has been interpreted by his sympathizers and categorized by his critics. Dissenting from this, I regard the term “Kantian constructivism in ethics” as an oxymoron, whose interest ought to lie exclusively in its shock value. Kant might be accurately described as a ‘constructivist’ in the philosophy of mathematics, but he is no constructivist in ethics. When understood as an interpretive claim about Kantian ethics, “Kantian constructivism” gets Kant’s entire conception of ethical theory, as well as his conception of autonomy and his position in metaethics (or the metaphysics of value), basically wrong.
  • John Rawls is well known for contrasting Kantian with utilitarian ethics by claiming that utilitarianism does not take seriously enough the differences between persons (Rawls, TJ 27). This way of looking at the contrast makes Kantian ethics appear “individualistic” by comparison with utilitarianism, though this is highly misleading. A better way to look at the contrast is to point out that Kantian ethics places a higher priority on human community – it values the conditions of rational cooperation among persons, and their sharing of common ends, more than it does the aggregate welfare of individuals considered in isolation. Hence, the point that Kantian ethics really has in mind in taking seriously the differences between persons is that this is necessary in order to develop a conception of ethical norms based on a true idea of human community (instead of reducing the common deliberation of different people to the deliberation of a single individual agent).
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