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Rawls' Theory of Justice


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • BA students in Philosophy, who have successfully completed their first year, and who have also completed at least 10 EC’s of the mandatory components of their second year, including Political Philosophy.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement, and for whom this course is part of their programme.


This course provides an opportunity to analyze and debate what is widely regarded as the most important work of political philosophy in the twentieth century, John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (1971, revised edition 1999). Rawls’ work aims to provide a systematic theory of the liberal democratic state, focused on three main issues: (i) constructing a theory of justice as fairness that reconciles the demands of liberty and equality, (ii) outlining the framework of basic institutions that best realizes these principles of justice, and (iii) understanding how social justice can be rendered compatible with the good of individuals. The course will consider the context out of which Rawls’ work emerges, engage in a close reading and analysis of the text, and cover some of the most important normative debates to which it has given rise.

Course objectives

This course aims to equip students with a systematic understanding of the arguments of Rawls’ A Theory of Justice and their significance within key debates in contemporary political philosophy.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the context and aims of Rawls’ theory of justice;

  • the key arguments of the text regarding the nature and value of justice, the framework of basic institutions required for a just society, and the relationship between social justice and the individual good;

  • some of the key normative debates Rawls’ theory has generated in the secondary literature.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • knowledgeably discuss questions about how Rawls’ theory of justice is best interpreted;

  • think independently and critically about whether and how Rawls’ theory of justice should be applied;

  • analyze and discuss key issues of textual interpretation and normative justification to which Rawls’ work has given rise.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Midterm paper: 40%

  • Final paper: 60%


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of the two subtests (see above).


The resit covers the entire exam (100%) and consists of of paper.
Active participation in class is required for admission to the resit.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, revised edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

  • Jon Mandle, Rawls's A Theory of Justice: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Other readings will be made available via Brightspace.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. J.S. Gledhill


Not applicable.