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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 March 1999

Jody S. Kraus
School of Law, University of Virginia


Every theory of justice requires a first-order theory specifying principles of justice, and a second-order view explaining why those principles constitute the correct principles of justice. According to John Rawls, political liberalism is committed to the two principles of justice specified in its first-order theory, “justice as fairness.” Justice as fairness, according to Rawls, in turn presupposes the second-order view that justice is a political conception. A political conception of justice treats the principles derived from the fundamental ideas in the public political culture as the correct principles of justice. Political liberalism, however, nowhere offers a defense of the view that justice is a political conception. Indeed, it even strives to avoid the admission that it presupposes that justice is a political conception by stating only that it uses a political conception of justice, while allowing that justice might not actually be a political conception. As to the truth of its second-order presupposition, political liberalism chooses to remain agnostic. Rawls claims that political liberalism has no choice at all. To do otherwise, he argues, would lead to an internal contradiction.

Research Article
© 1999 Cambridge University Press

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