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Eyes wide shut: John Rawls's silence on racial justice


  • Ai-Thu Dang

    (CES - Centre d'économie de la Sorbonne - UP1 - Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique)


John Rawls's remarks on race are sparse in his writings. However, three key moments in his conceptual apparatus wherein racial issues appear explicitly can be be highlighted: (1) the status of race as a feature of the veil of ignorance; (2) racial minorities, the least advantaged, and the difference principle; and (3) the role of arguments made by antebellum abolitionist dissidents and Martin Luther King, Jr., in favor of racial equality in his reformulation of his notion of public reason. I show that the introduction of race poses difficulties for Rawls in his theory of justice. I also propose an explanation of why Rawls does not address issues of racial justice more explicitly and in-depth. However, because Rawls himself explained his relative silence on racial justice, I discuss its relevance. I contend that Rawls's conception of justice as fairness as a form of political liberalism is indebted to a strong principle of equal citizenship for all individuals that is blind to race and ethnicity, so his theoretical apparatus addresses the issue of legal racial discrimination or institutional racism. Nevertheless, it fails to address the problem of systemic racial discrimination.

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  • Ai-Thu Dang, 2015. "Eyes wide shut: John Rawls's silence on racial justice," Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) halshs-01163932, HAL.
  • Handle: RePEc:hal:cesptp:halshs-01163932
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alan Hamlin & Zofia Stemplowska, 2012. "Theory, Ideal Theory and the Theory of Ideals," Political Studies Review, Political Studies Association, vol. 10(1), pages 48-62, January.
    2. Andrew F Smith, 2014. "Political deliberation and the challenge of bounded rationality," Politics, Philosophy & Economics, , vol. 13(3), pages 269-291, August.
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    More about this item


    justice as fairness; racial (in)justice; public reason; ideal and nonideal theory; John Rawls; justice comme équité; (in)justice raciale; raison publique; théorie idéale et théorie non idéale;
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