Document Type



Master of Arts



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

William Dunaway


Eric Wiland

Jon McGinnis


John Rawls’ influential A Theory of Justice presents a liberal theory in which individuals gain “a sense of justice” that commits them to the success of the just society above other interests or life plans. Critics of Rawlsian liberalism such as Taylor, Sandel, MacIntyre, Walzer, and the communitarians have variously complained that his theory inadequately accounts for individual commitment to community as distinct from commitment to the whole of society. In this essay I consider Rawls’s theory in light of the arguments of these community concerned critics in order to understand whether these complaints have any merit. In particular, I consider the desire for strong connections to community—an individual’s commitment to his community is so highly valued that his participation in the community is not conditioned upon any other benefit or interest—and the concern that Rawls’s theory encourages loose connections, which I define as a commitment to one’s communities that has a lower priority compared to other interests and life plans and thus is conditioned upon benefits conferred to these other interests and life plans. In part I, I present an account of community as distinct from society in order to indicate the object of the connections in question. Community is differentiating, it maintains a substantive and demanding conception of the good, demands which are voluntarily assented to, it distributes goods to its members exclusively, and its members life plans intertwine in a way that would make departure from the community personally costly and thus undesirable. In part II, I summarize important features of Rawls’s theory, including the conception of rationality that is required in order to secure the principles of justice, and the sense of justice. In part III, I argue that the sense of justice and Rawls’s conception of rationality do in fact work against strong connection to community and instead prefer loose connections.