Res Publica

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 227–243 | Cite as

The Problem of Historical Rectification for Rawlsian Theory

  • Juan Espindola
  • Moises Vaca


In this paper we claim that Rawls’s theory is compatible with the absence of rectification of extremely important historical injustices within a given society. We hold that adding a new principle to justice-as-fairness may amend this problem. There are four possible objections to our claim: First, that historical rectification is not required by justice. Second, that, even when historical rectification is a matter of justice, it is not a matter of distributive justice, so that Rawls’s theory is justified in leaving it unaddressed. Third, that dealing with historical injustice is outside of the scope of ideal theory, so that even when historical rectification is required by justice, Rawls’s theory starts with the assumption that no such historical injustice has occurred. Fourth, that while historical injustice is within the scope of Rawls’s theory, there is no need for further principles of justice to deal with it, so that the correct regulation of the principles of justice-as-fairness would ensure the rectification of all relevant historical injustices of a particular society. While we offer several arguments against the first and second objections, we address the last two at length and show that both fail.


Historical injustice Ideal/non-ideal theory Rawlsian theory Fair equality of opportunity Transitional justice 



We would like to thank Elizabeth Anderson, Luis Camacho, Robert Jubb, Claudio López-Guerra, Catherine Lu, Veronique Munoz-Dardé, Carlos Pereda, Tom Porter, Faviola Rivera, Laura Valentini, Leif Wenar, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Social ResearchNational Autonomous University of MéxicoCoyoacánMexico, D.F.
  2. 2.Institute for Philosophical ResearchNational Autonomous University of MéxicoCoyoacán Mexico, D.F.

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