The Public Interest

Rawls, Nozick, and Educational Equality

James S. Coleman

Spring 1976

TWO recent treatises on moral philosophy have attracted far more general attention than is ordinarily given to works in academic philosophy: A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls, and Anarchy, State, and Utopia, by Robert Noziek. Together, they offer a framework for considering the difficult problems of inequality in education.  Rawls’ theory of justice directly addresses the question of what is a just distribution in society-or, put differently, whether inequalities are justified in society, and if so, what kinds and amounts of inequality. Rawls’ answer is that only those inequalities are justified which are to the benefit of the least advantaged. Because some inequalities of position or of resources may bring greater productivity and thus greater benefits to all, they may be justified by this principle-though only those such inequalities are permissible. 

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