Document Type


First Faculty Advisor

Holtzman, Richard


rawls; family; feminism; gender; sexuality; equality; inequality


Bryant University


This paper examines the latest developments in feminist critiques of the seminal Theory of Justice, written by John Rawls, the late preeminent American moral philosopher. Rawls is recognized as one of the most influential moral political philosophers of the twentieth century and is increasingly relevant because of his discussions on pluralist societies. With the current diverging of liberal, conservative and libertarian philosophies among Americans, as well as the fragmentation of parties to accommodate an increasingly diverse public, a clear philosophy and understanding of liberal theory is necessary for its future in American politics. The current pressure to address the needs of oppressed groups such as women and sexual minorities has created a philosophical tipping point. What is to be considered equality, how the government should involve itself, and how this will be done feasibly and throughout generations need answers defined on all sides of the discussion.

Gender and sexual inequality, when considering what should be done, is one of the most significant challenges because of its effect on the traditional family, on centuries of preconceived notions of gender and sexuality, and the heavy commitment it may take to extinguish. To analyze the social contract approach and the theory of justice as fairness, I will examine and then follow Rawls’ own method of the original position to determine in which manner the family should be situated within society to result in the best accordance to the two principles. Furthermore, the arguments on the reasonability of religion in a political conception will be used to promote a fair and stable society. The overall aim is to develop a Rawlsian solution to gender equality in society that is both fair and sustainable in a pluralistic society.

Focusing on the role of the family in society, I argue that Rawls’ fundamental concept of justice – “justice as fairness” – does not develop a clear and convincing stance on how gender equality will be produced (and reproduced) in a pluralistic society. Debate has risen between feminist and liberal philosophers in distinguishing the relationship between Rawls’ two principles of justice and their intervention in family hierarchy, duties, and responsibilities. The two principles are known as:

First Principle: Each person has the same indefeasible claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all;

Second Principle: Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: They are to be attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; They are to be to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members of society (the difference principle). (JF, 42-43)

The distinction between an indirect and direct interaction between principles of justice and the basic structures of society (family being one of them) will shape the way the political arena promotes equality. This is the case, provided that the procedure in which Rawls utilizes is fair in itself, which has come into contention among feminist thinkers. Once the family is situated in the original position, the feasibility of the theory will be discussed within the parameters of a property-owning democracy as well as, more specifically, a deliberative democracy. This solution should bring a reflective justification for the principles abilities to deal with injustices outlined by feminists.