The Incompatibility of Rawls's Justice as Fairness and His Just War Approach

Ratio Juris 37 (1):67-82 (2024)
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A fundamental tension exists between Rawls's ideal Kantian conception of justice as fairness (JAF), which requires respecting people as ends, and his realistic non-Kantian consequentialist conception of a supreme emergency in a just war. By justifying the targeting of objectively innocent noncombatants during a supreme emergency exception, Rawls allows for treating them as means only. Hence, his appeal to a supreme emergency is insufficient to avoid this tension. First, since for him JAF is ideal but also practical, one might argue that his fictional people in the original position must reflect on the justification for using force on behalf of JAF. And second, since Rawls justifies targeting objectively innocent people during a supreme emergency exemption, he justifies what one might conceive of as emergency terrorism. Emergency terrorism, however, treats people as means only. Therefore, Rawls's Kantian conception of JAF is in tension with his consequentialist justification of a supreme emergency in a just war and hence with emergency terrorism.

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Vicente Medina
Seton Hall University


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