A Theory of Justice

Rawls and Arendt on Freedom College

Philosophers John Rawls and Hannah Arendt each establish different definitions of freedom that help to judge the legitimacy and purpose of political institutions. And while these definitions are not the same, they do not necessarily directly oppose one another. Rather, Arendt’s theory seems to be more comprehensive and appears almost as a prerequisite condition of society before Rawls’ perception of freedom can become a reality.

To understand Rawls’ perspective on freedom, one must first look to his conception of the “original position” (A Theory of Justice 1039). This state in society’s development is where there is an “initial position of equality” across all people who have come together to collectively attempt to improve the lot of the individual. The original position is important according to Rawls, because it is when the people establish the principles of justice that “regulate all further agreements” (1038).

In further explaining the importance of the original position in conveying what freedom is, Rawls highlights that the principles of justice are “chosen behind a veil of ignorance” (1039). This is important, as given that all people are equal and now are also unaware of their “place[s] in society” or even “their...

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