Is Rawls Really a Kantian Contractarian?

Baldwin Wong*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


In most of the introductions to Rawls and contemporary contractarianism, Rawls is seen as the representative of Kantian contractarianism. He is understood as inheriting a contractarian tradition that can be traced back to Kant and which has inspired followers such as Barry and Scanlon. This paper argues that the label does not fit Rawls. While a Kantian contractarian would presuppose a monistic conception of practical reason, Rawls is a hybrid contractarian who presupposes a dual conception. I shall first argue that the way in which a contractarian model is labeled is determined by its conception of practical reason. Then I show that Rawls and Kantian contractarians assume different conceptions of practical reason, and therefore should be seen as belonging to two strands of thought. I further argue that, although Rawls acknowledges his intellectual affiliation with Kant, he cannot be considered a Kantian contractarian in the commonly understood way. In his Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, Rawls interprets Kant as endorsing a hybrid contractarian model that is similar to his. By understanding Rawls as a hybrid contractarian and not confusing his philosophical project with that of Kantian contractarians, Rawls’s contribution to the history of contractarianism can be better evaluated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-49
Number of pages19
JournalPublic Reason
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science

User-Defined Keywords

  • Kant
  • Kantian contractarianism
  • Practical reason
  • Rawls
  • Scanlon
  • Sidgwick


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