Rawls and Utilitarianism *

Samuel Scheffler

in Boundaries and Allegiances

Published in print September 2002 | ISBN: 9780199257676
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191600197 | DOI:
 Rawls and Utilitarianism *

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After reviewing John Rawls's arguments against utilitarianism in A Theory of Justice and then examining Michael Sandel's and Robert Nozick's criticisms of those arguments, Scheffler points to three important similarities between utilitarianism and Rawls's own theory. Both the theories are systematic and constructive in character, both treat common‐sense notions of justice as deriving from a more authoritative standard, and both are committed to distributive holism, in the sense that they regard the justice of any assignment of benefits to a particular individual as dependent on the justice of the overall distribution of benefits in society. These similarities may make it seem that Rawls's theory fails to remedy utilitarianism's neglect of the distinctness of persons. But Scheffler argues that Rawls's theory accommodates holistic pressures while maintaining a commitment to the inviolability of the individual. Scheffler also suggests that the complexity of Rawls's attitude toward utilitarianism in A Theory of Justice may help to explain his willingness, in Political Liberalism, to treat utilitarianism as a candidate for inclusion in an overlapping consensus.

Keywords: benefits; distributive holism; inviolability; justice; Robert Nozick; overlapping consensus; Michael Sandel; utilitarianism

Chapter.  12977 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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