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Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence





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John Rawls’s strict theory of perfectionism would have more appeal if it were reconstructed by balancing it with moderate cultural perfectionism. In his work, A Theory of Justice, John Rawls framed the modern idea of legal perfectionism. In his thought experiment, Rawls gave different players various theories of justice that contrast with his “original position,” in which principles of justice are decided from behind a veil of ignorance. The first of the theories, strict perfectionism, argued society should be structured in a way that produces the utmost levels of excellence in someone, but not everyone. The second theory, moderate perfectionism, asserted that society should be arranged to achieve excellence, but not at the expense of meeting society’s basic needs.

Rawls created these theories solely to be rejected, rejecting them primarily because of the controversies inherent in defining excellence. Rawls endorses political liberalism, which pursues the good through an overlapping consensus while avoiding the trappings of the controversy he sees in perfectionism. However, there is no reason Rawls’s preferred method of pursuing the good be applied to a reconstructed theory of perfectionism. Rather than relying on a comprehensive definition of “the good,” excellence can be defined by an overlapping consensus promoting both social and personal maximization, allowing “the good” to be encompassed by a set of pursuits toward excellence.

Recommended Citation

Stephen M. Sheppard, The Perfectionism of John Rawls, 11 Can. J.L. & Juris. 383 (1998).

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