Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Alex Rajczi

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© 2015 Kevin Wu


John Rawls was a political philosopher concerned with social justice, specifically the best way that society could be structured so that individual rights and duties were fairly distributed amongst everyone and division of advantages from social cooperation were optimally determined. He believed that this conception of justice rested in principles that would be agreed upon by free, self-interested and rational persons in a starting position of equality and fairness. The principles of the theory of justice are ones that are meant to enable this group of people to cooperate with each other while recognizing that individuals in the group both share the same interests and have conflicting interests. These principles can be understood as underlying our most strongly held ethical beliefs – the ones that exhibit our ability to make the right moral decisions. This paper explains Rawls’ theory of justice, Justice as Fairness, considers an alternative known as “mixed conception” and offers Rawls’ response to the alternative before delving deeper into the debate to understand whether Rawls’ theory of a “mixed conception” should be chosen for a society. Rawls was a notoriously difficult writer so this thesis spends a significant amount of time trying to explicate his views and arguments. With that being said, this thesis does miss out on some key secondary details but hopes to give a clear and compelling picture of his theory, especially the parts that relate to the debate. The debate centers on the choice between the difference principle, which calls for society to maximize the prospects of the least advantaged, and the social minimum principle, which has society set a social minimum that would allow citizens to lead decent lives and take measures necessary to ensure everyone can reach that minimum. In the end, I reach the conclusion that the social minimum principle, in combination with some of Rawls’ other principles, should be used as one of the main principles of justice in society.