Framing Rawls's Democratic Vision

21 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2015 Last revised: 7 May 2015

See all articles by David A. Reidy

David A. Reidy

University of Tennessee - Department of Philosophy

Date Written: January 16, 2015


In this essay I draw from Rawls's archived papers to set out several too often under-appreciated elements of Rawls's distinctively democratic vision.

Many readers of Rawls’s published works assume that what most distinguishes his work is his substantive conception of justice. To be sure, it is in certain respects distinctive. But even some of its most distinctive elements – e.g., the difference principle, the lexical ordering of principles of justice and the idea of the basic structure as the first subject of justice – had been anticipated. Some readers find most distinctive the larger (and allegedly shifting) argumentative context of Rawls’s work, whether the universalist and metaphysically ambitious Kantian contractualist framework alleged to frame his early work or the historicist and arguably relativist Hegelian hermeneutic framework alleged to frame his later work. For those exploring Rawls’s archived unpublished papers, lecture notes and letters, what emerges as most distinctive is a consistently maintained set of methodological and meta-philosophical commitments constituting and framing a democratic vision. In this short essay, I briefly sketch a few of these.

Keywords: democracy, justice, Rawls, liberalism

Suggested Citation

Reidy, David A., Framing Rawls's Democratic Vision (January 16, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

David A. Reidy (Contact Author)

University of Tennessee - Department of Philosophy ( email )

801 McClung Tower
Knoxville, TN 37996
United States
865 974 3255 (Phone)
865 974 3509 (Fax)


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