Contemporary Political Thought

Theories of Justice

Degree Program: Political Science(7th semester – compulsory)

Teaching hours: 3 per week-ECTS 5

Course Tutor: Lia Mela, Assistant Professor

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Subject and course description:

In this course are studied contemporary theories of justice, focusing on the philosophical thought of John Rawls. Rawls is associated with the revival of the contract theory during the 20th century. The American philosopher raises the question of the just society, looking for consensus in contemporary societies in which rival interests and theories are in conflict. The lectures are following Rawls’s thought from A Theory of Justice to Political Liberalism in an attempt to reconstruct the basic points of his theory.

In particular, are analyzed the methodological presuppositions of the contract and the principles of justice on which the contract parties agree. Focusing on the concepts of the original position, the priority of right over the good, autonomy and neutrality, the points of continuity and divergence between the two philosophical works are indicated. In this context it is examined the transition from «comprehensive» to «political» liberalism, the reassessment of the original position and the basic goods, the idea of the rational versus the reasonable and the ideal of tolerance, in order to enable the critical assessment of the entire project.

Course outline:

A Theory of Justice

  • The problem of the justification of the principles of justice.
  • The “original position” and the “veil of ignorance”.
  • The ideal of free and equal persons.
  • The idea of reflective equilibrium.
  • The principles of justice:
  • (a) The priority of the basic liberties.
  • (b1) Fair equality of opportunity.
  • (b2) The “difference principle”.
  • The priority of the right over the good. Connecting the right with the good.

Political Liberalism

  • The problem of stability.
  • Reasonable vs. Rational.
  • “Political” and “comprehensive” liberalism.
  • The demand for an overlapping consensus of reasonable comprehensive doctrines.
  • The ideal of tolerance.
  • The good of the political society.

Learning objectives:

After the completion of the course, students should be able to:

(α) reconstruct the key points of Rawls’s theory.

(β) understand the differentiation between comprehensive and political liberalism.

(γ) have a general understanding of the developments in liberal theory during the 20th century.

Course evaluation:

A written examination at the end of the semester (100%).

An optional essay up to 2.500 words (+20%).



  • Μελά, Λ., 2007. John Rawls. Η προβληματική του συμβολαίου. Αθήνα: Ίδρυμα Σάκη Καράγιωργα.
  • Μιχαλάκης, Α., 2013. Το δίκαιο και το αγαθό. Δοκίμιο για τη θεωρία της δικαιοσύνης του John Rawls. Αθήνα: Αλεξάνδρεια.


  • Daniels, N. (ed.), 1989 [1975a]. Reading Rawls. Critical Studies on Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. Stanford California: Stanford University Press.
  • Kukathas, C. (ed.), 2003. John Rawls. Critical Assessments of Leading Political Philosophers. Vol. I-IV. London: Routledge.
  • Παπαγεωργίου, Κ, 1994. Η πολιτική δυνατότητα της δικαιοσύνης. Συμβόλαιο και συναίνεση στον John Rawls. Αθήνα: Νήσος.
  • Rawls, J., 2001. Θεωρία της Δικαιοσύνης. Μτφρ. Φ. Βασιλόγιαννης κ.α. Αθήνα: Πόλις.
  • Rawls, J., 2004. Πολιτικός Φιλελευθερισμός. Μτφρ. Σ. Μαρκέττος. Αθήνα: Μεταίχμιο.
  • Richarsdson H. & Weithman P. (eds.), 1999. The Development and Main Outlines of Rawls’s Theory of Justice (The Philosophy of Rawls, 1). New York: Garland Publishing Inc.
  • Richarsdson H. & Weithman P. (eds.), 1999. The Two Principles and Their Justification (The Philosophy of Rawls, 2). New York: Garland Publishing Inc.
  • Richarsdson H. & Weithman P. (eds.), 1999. Opponents and implications of A Theory of Justice (The Philosophy of Rawls, 3). New York: Garland Publishing Inc.
  • Richarsdson H. & Weithman P. (eds.), 1999. Moral Psychology and Community (The Philosophy of Rawls, 4). New York, Garland Publishing Inc., 1999.
  • Richarsdson H. & Weithman P. (eds.), 1999. Reasonable Pluralism (The Philosophy of Rawls, 5). New York, Garland Publishing Inc., 1999.