Cohen on Rawls: Personal Choice and the Ideal of Justice

Social Philosophy Today 29:135-149 (2013)
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G. A. Cohen is well known within contemporary political philosophy for claiming that the scope of principles of justice extends beyond the design of institutions to citizens’ personal choices. More recently, he’s also received attention for claiming that principles of justice are normatively ultimate, i.e., that they’re necessary for the justification of action guiding principles (regulatory rules) but are unsuitable to guide political practice themselves. The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between these claims as they’re applied in criticism of John Rawls. It argues that ascribing normative ultimacy to justice entails its application to personal choice. However, it also argues that if Cohen is right about Rawls’s difference principle being regulatory rather than ultimate, then his earlier claim that Rawls must extend it to personal choice on pain of inconsistency is refuted


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