Document Type



Master of Arts



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Jill B. Delston


Jill Delston

Jon McGinnis

Eric Wiland


In this work I argue that John Rawls’ "The Law of Peoples" is vulnerable to the critique of becoming a modus vivendi, a point that has been given little consideration until now. A modus vivendi is an arrangement of coordinated self-restraint of competitive behavior between two or more parties in the hopes of self-interest maximization and a peaceful coexistence. I cite two reasons: his oversight of what I call the aggressive state, and the restricted operation of public reason in the Society of Peoples. I ultimately suggest that adopting a model of public reason widened to permit participation of qualified individuals external to the Society of Peoples, in conjunction with revisions to the grounds for just intervention in the Law of Peoples, alleviates both of these issues. To execute this project I begin by explaining Rawls’ conception of global justice and public reason as seen in The Law of Peoples. From here, I elaborate on my critique of instability, illustrating why Rawls’ model has the potential for becoming a modus vivendi. I then explain how The Law of Peoples permits aggressive states – a type of state not included in Rawls’ account. Next, I spell out my two-part remedy for the instability that is exemplified by the room left for the aggressive state: extending the permissible grounds for intervention from just human rights violations to also include the defense against unjust inequalities being imposed upon one state or peoples by another, as well as a more inclusive conception of public reason that permits all reasonable citizens – not merely representatives – to participate. I offer this particular remedy to stay in keeping with the Rawlsian tradition. While doing this, I consider and refute objections to both of my proposed components. In refuting these objections I confirm that my suggested modifications to the Law of Peoples should be adopted so that the threat of instability can be definitively eliminated from Rawls’ account of global justice.

OCLC Number