Summary of A Theory of Justice

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A Theory of Justice book summary
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John Rawls’s landmark 1971 treatise transformed political philosophy by offering a systematic alternative to the utilitarianism that had dominated the field for more than a century. By turning the focus of political philosophy to the welfare of the least advantaged – while offering a bold argument for the inviolability of fundamental civil and political rights – Rawls influenced the thinking of generations of philosophers, lawyers and legislators. Closely reasoned, dense, often technical but brightened by the warmth of Rawls’s compassion and the brilliance of his intellect, A Theory of Justice belongs on the required reading list of every student of law, politics or philosophy.

About the Author

John Rawls (1921–2002) was an influential American moral and political philosopher. He taught at Harvard University for more than 30 years.



“Justice as fairness” offers an individualistic alternative to utilitarianism.

Classical utilitarianism holds that a just society should aim to create the greatest possible total satisfaction – or “utility” – for all members of the society, considered collectively. Utilitarianism takes an anti-individualistic stance; it fuses all members of society into one entity. Under this conception of justice, a society can violate some members’ liberty or deny the desires of some individuals for the sake of the collective good.

Thinkers have noted utilitarianism’s disadvantages, agreeing that certain basic liberties and rights of individual members of society should not fall under a utilitarian calculus. A new theory, justice as fairness, provides an alternative to utilitarianism. Justice as fairness returns to the view of the social contract articulated by philosophers John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant, but sets it in a new framework, one more appropriate to a democratic society.

Society needs a shared conception of justice so that people can live together.

A shared conception of...

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    R. T. 1 month ago
    Fantastic read. I’ve always wanted to read A Theory of Justice by John Rawls, but at 624pp long I’ve never had either the time or the motivation to actually read it! This summary is excellent in that it presents the basics of his argument in a way that is both clear and easy to understand in a historical context. And this is exactly the kind of use case where GetAbtract excels.
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    2 months ago
    It is unfortunate that your monthly rate is so high ($43/month). I prefer reading the books, not reading abstracts. Only on the infrequent occasion would I need abstracts, thus not justifying paying so much.
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      Karen Londo 2 months ago
      Hello, thank you for your comment.
      Please look for my email reply that I will send to you directly regarding our monthly subscription rates. In addition, I would be interested in finding out where you located that cost, as our Monthly subscriptions are available at a much lower cost.