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Rawls John(1921-2002) US social philosopher, whose major work A Theory of Social Justice (1971) propounds a ‘contractarian’ account of Human Rights, based on two principles:
- the equality principle, equal rights to basic liberties;
- the difference principle, in which inequalities are only justified if the worst-off fare better than they would in conditions of equal basic liberties. There are similarities with HABERMAS's emphasis on reason and universality.
Like Habermas's, Rawls’ theory has generated enormous discussion, It has been suggested that he fails to resolve the problems of giving pre-eminence to civil and political rights over economic and social ones (e.g. see Doyal and Gough, A Theory of Human Need, 1991). As Doyal and Gough suggest, however, this critique of Rawls is not the same as assuming that a socialist society would readily resolve such issues. Nor is it to minimize the importance of the progress that has been made in meeting welfare needs in constitutionally governed societies. Seen in this context, Rawls’ account is a powerful attempt to address central issues, and dilemmas, about JUSTICE. See also EQUALITY.