Hampton, Jean, and . Contracts and Choices: Does Rawls Have a Social Contract Theory?

1980, Journal of Philosophy 77(6): 315-338.

Introduction: In A Theory of Justice John Rawls tells us he is presenting a social contract theory: “My aim,” he writes, “is to present a conception of justice which generalizes and carries to a higher level of abstraction the familiar theory of the social contract as found in say, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant”. And indeed his many and various critics have generally assumed he has a contractarian position and have criticized him on that basis. However, it will be my contention in this paper that a contractual agreement on the two principles not only does not but ought not to occur in the original position, and that, although Rawls uses contract language in his book, there is another procedure outlined in Part One of A Theory of Justice through which the two principles are selected.

Comment: Questions the nature of the Rawlsian contract and asks whether it really belongs in the same tradition as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. Useful if engaging with Rawls's methodology at a deep level. Would make good further reading for a module on either Rawls specifically or the social contract tradition more generally.