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Rawls and the economists: the (im)possible dialogue

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  • Herrade Igersheim

Abstract

Although falling within the scope of political and moral philosophy, it is well known that A Theory of Justice has also had a great impact on economists. As such, Rawls put great emphasis on his desire to combine economics and philosophy, and particularly to deal with rational choice theory, notably and famously claiming that “the theory of justice is a part, perhaps the most significant part, of the theory of rational choice” (1971, 15). After the publication of A Theory of Justice, aspects of it came in for criticism – often very vehement – by economists such as Arrow (1973), Musgrave (1974), Harsanyi (1975) and later by Sen (1980). Rawls’s immediate answers (1974a,b in particular) showed that he first wanted to maintain a dialogue with the economists, but the later evolutions of his works (1993, 2001) clearly demonstrated that he had removed himself from the economic realm, returning to his initial philosophical territory in order to overcome the internal inconsistencies of A Theory of Justice. In this paper, by focusing extensively on the letter exchanges between Rawls and the economists before and after the publication of A Theory of Justice, I attempt to shed light on other (complementary) elements which can explain Rawls’s retreat from the realm of economics, and his progressive disenchantment regarding the possibility of a dialogue on equal footing between economists and philosophers.

Suggested Citation

  • Herrade Igersheim, 2021. "Rawls and the economists: the (im)possible dialogue," Working Papers of BETA 2021-47, Bureau d'Economie Théorique et Appliquée, UDS, Strasbourg.
  • Handle: RePEc:ulp:sbbeta:2021-47
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    File URL: http://beta.u-strasbg.fr/WP/2021/2021-47.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. John Rawls, 1974. "Reply to Alexander and Musgrave," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 88(4), pages 633-655.
    2. Muriel Gilardone, 2015. "Rawls's influence and counter-influence on Sen: Post-welfarism and impartiality," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 22(2), pages 198-235, April.
    3. James M. Buchanan, 1976. "A Hobbesian Interpretation Of The Rawlsian Difference Principle," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 29(1), pages 5-25, January.
    4. Duhamel, David, 2012. "Le programme rawlsien apocryphe," OEconomia, Editions NecPlus, vol. 2012(02), pages 151-177, July.
    5. Juan Carvajalino, 2018. "Samuelson’s operationally meaningful theorems: reflections of E. B. Wilson’s methodological attitude," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 25(2), pages 143-159, April.
    6. James Buchanan, 1972. "Rawls on justice as fairness," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 13(1), pages 123-128, September.
    7. Edmund S. Phelps, 1973. "Taxation of Wage Income for Economic Justice," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(3), pages 331-354.
    8. R. A. Musgrave, 1974. "Maximin, Uncertainty, and the Leisure Trade-Off," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 88(4), pages 625-632.
    9. Ragip Ege & Herrade Igersheim, 2008. "Rawls with Hegel: The concept of 'Liberalism of freedom'," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 15(1), pages 25-47.
    10. R. M. Solow, 1974. "Intergenerational Equity and Exhaustible Resources," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 41(5), pages 29-45.
    11. Harsanyi, John C., 1975. "Can the Maximin Principle Serve as a Basis for Morality? A Critique of John Rawls's Theory," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(2), pages 594-606, June.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Igersheim on Rawls and economics
      by Mark D. White in Economics and Ethics on 2021-12-06 13:00:00

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Rawls; Sen; social justice; rational choice.;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • B21 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925 - - - Microeconomics
    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement

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