Justice in Emmanuel Levinas and John Rawls

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This paper draws attention to overlooked similarities between John Rawls’s and Emmanuel Levinas’s understandings of justice. Its first part provides a synopsis of each philosopher’s ideas as well trends in the secondary literature on their comparability. I then focus on an especially thoughtful attempt to open a dialogue between Levinas and Rawls—Flora Bastiani’s ‘Égalité, équité et justice.’ Bastiani identifies several points of comparison but concludes that a different, superior ‘moral criterion’ inspires Levinas’s idea of justice. Bastiani bases her analysis on Rawls’s Theory of Justice. However, Rawls substantially revised his theory in Political Liberalism. I argue that he was not unaware of criticisms like the ones which Bastiani raises and that he sought to address them in Political Liberalism. Moreover, I show that his revised ‘political conception’ of justice has surprising affinities to Levinas. For both, justice arises out of an ethical exigency imposed onto us by those whose values and perspectives cannot be assimilated to our own—an ethical demand that we refuse the temptation to impose our will onto them and endeavor instead to enact peaceful compromises.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-487
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Philosophical Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy


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