Legitimate, but unjust; just, but illegitimate

Philosophy and Social Criticism 42 (2):132-153 (2016)
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The article offers a reconstruction of John Rawls views on political legitimacy, from A Theory of Justice to his late writings on political liberalism. It argues that Rawls had three conceptions of legitimacy, not two as one might expect based on the distinction between his two major works. Its argument is that the most radical change in Rawls’ thinking about legitimacy occurs in ‘Introduction to the Paperback Edition’ and ‘The Idea of Public Reason Revisited’. Here Rawls assumes that there can be a reasonable pluralism not only of comprehensive doctrines, but also of political liberal conceptions of justice. As a consequence, the standard of political legitimacy is no longer specified as sufficient justice relative to justice as fairness, but instead as sufficient justice relative to a family of political conceptions of justice – a family which in turn is animated by an ideal of public reasoning about constitutional matters and matters of basic justice. The article also shows how Rawls’ late ideal of public reason is grounded in the need for legitimate constitutional government.


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