Rawlsian Justice and the Social Determinants of Health

Journal of Applied Philosophy 36 (4):608-625 (2018)
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In this article, we suggest that the evidence regarding the social determinants of health calls for a deep re‐thinking of our understanding of distributive justice. Focusing on John Rawls's theory of distributive justice in particular, we argue that a full reckoning with the social determinants of health requires a re‐working of Rawls's principles of justice. We argue first that the social bases of health – a Rawlsian conception of the social determinants of health – should be considered a social primary good. We argue second that including the social bases of health as a social primary good would lead the parties to the original position to choose an additional principle of justice and assign it lexical priority over Rawls's second principle. According to this principle, inequalities in people's share of the social bases of health are to be arranged so as to improve the health status of those least advantaged on the social health gradient.

Author's Profile

Douglas MacKay
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


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