Beyond the Difference Principle: Rawlsian Justice, Business Ethics, and the Morality of the Market


Matt Zwolinski

Document Type


Publication Date



The philosophical work of John Rawls has had a tremendous influence on contemporary business ethics. But that influence has been limited to a relatively narrow portion of Rawls’ ideas. Business ethics textbooks and journal articles focus much more heavily on Rawls’ Theory of Justice than they do his more mature Political Liberalism. And even within the former book, they focus almost entirely on Rawls’s discussion of the original position and the two principles of justice. This narrowness of focus has resulted in a tendency either to misunderstand the implications of the full range of Rawlsian ideas for questions about the regulation and possible public ownership of business, or to accept uncritically Rawls’s own barely defended assumptions about those implications. Rawlsian thought, this chapter concludes, is not as hostile to the institutions of private property and market processes as Rawls’s critics, and sometimes his followers, have suggested. But neither is it as hospitable to them as its own principles suggest it should be.