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Theories of Social Justice: Rawls & Beyond - PHI00112H

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Martin O'Neill
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

This module considers fundamental questions of social justice, looking at philosophical accounts of how the social and economic structure of society should be organised. We will begin with John Rawls's highly influential theory of justice, before moving on to consider more recent views of justice from both the right and left.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

Subject Content

  • To explore some key issues in political philosophy, through engaging with theories of social justice since Rawls;
  • To provide a research-led approach to understanding and participating in contemporary debates in political philosophy.

Academic and Graduate Skills

  • To develop students’ abilities to apply philosophical tools and techniques in order to advance understanding of intellectual problems.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, you should:

  • know the main features of Rawls’s theory of justice, as well as some of the most important responses to Rawls’s theory in the years since its publication;
  • understand the main areas of agreement and disagreement in philosophical accounts of social justice, and understand what is at stake in theoretical disagreements in this area;
  • understand the relationship between philosophical accounts of social justice and concrete issues of politics and public policy

Academic and graduate skills:

  • be able to read and critically engage with a wide variety of complex and difficult material in recent political philosophy;
  • develop and defend a considered view on important questions of social justice

Module content

The idea of social justice; views of the basic liberties and the place of basic rights within a theory of justice; accounts of equality of opportunity, and their implications; views on what is troubling about economic inequality, and proposals for how to rectify it; opposing justifications for free market or socialist economic arrangements; special problems for justice such as the organisation of work and the place of family life; issues of race and gender as they touch on ideas of social justice.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

All feedback will be returned in line with University and Departmental policy.

Indicative reading

John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: a Restatement

John Tomasi, Free Market Fairness

Alan Thomas, Republic of Equals

Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.