Rawlsian Incentives and the Freedom Objection

Journal of Social Philosophy 47 (2):231-249 (2016)
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One Rawlsian response to G. A. Cohen’s criticisms of justice as fairness which Cohen canvasses, and then dismisses, is the 'Freedom Objection'. It comes in two versions. The 'First Version' asserts that there is an unresolved trilemma among the three principles of equality, Pareto-optimality, and freedom of occupational choice, while the 'Second Version' imputes to Rawls’s theory a concern to protect occupational freedom over equality of condition. This article is mainly concerned with advancing three claims. First, the 'ethical solution' Cohen advances against the First Version of the Freedom Objection does not grant a fair hearing to the Freedom Objection. Second, the distinction Cohen presses between the legal and moral right of occupational choice in his response to the Second Version cannot save him from worries about Stalinist coercion. Third, Cohen’s response to the First Version of the Freedom Objection is actually in tension with his response to the Second Version of the Freedom Objection.

Author's Profile

Gerald Lang
University of Leeds


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