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64 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 233 (1989)
The Domain of the Political and Overlapping Consensus

handle is hein.journals/nylr64 and id is 247 raw text is: NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
LAW REVIEW

VOLUME 64                          MAY 1989                          NUMBER 2
THE DOMAIN OF THE POLITICAL AND
OVERLAPPING CONSENSUS
JOHN RAwLS*
In a society marked by a pluralism of comprehensive moral views the ability of a
constitutional regime to maintain widespread allegiance is due to overlapping consen-
sus. Those with divergent comprehensive views may nonetheless agree on a given
political conception ofjustice. However, the idea of an overlapping consen=su  as used
in Professor Rawls!s earlier works, has caused some misgivngs. It seems to suggest
that political philosophy is ' political in the wrong way. Professor Rawls answers these
misgivings. A political conception ofjustice, such as Rawls's 'yustice as fairness in A
Theory of Justice is not merely tailored by the dominant group to justify favored
results Nor does it presuppose any particular comprehensive doctrine. whether reli-
gious or philosophical Rather, as supported by an overlapping consensus, justice as
fairness falls into a special domain of the politicaL It gives the framework of a stable
constitutional regime by resting on the consensus of citizens who share an understand-
ing of the role of certain basic rights and liberties, even though they may not agree on
comprehensive doctrines.
INTRODUCTION
In this Article, I shall examine the idea of an overlapping consensus'
and its role in a political conception of justice for a constitutional regime.
A political conception, I shall suppose, views the political as a special
domain with distinctive features that call for the articulation within the
conception of the characteristic values that apply to that domain. Justice
as fairness, the conception presented in my book A Theory of Justice
* James B. Conant University Professor, Harvard University. A.B., 1943, Ph.D., 1950,
Princeton University. An earlier version of this Article was the John Dewey Lecture in Juris-
prudence, given at New York University School of Law, November 15, 1988.
1 An overlapping consensus exists in a society when the political conception ofjustice that
regulates its basic institutions is endorsed by each of the main religious, philosophical, and
moral doctrines likely to endure in that society from one generation to the next. I have used
this idea mainly in Rawis, Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical, 14 Phil. & Pub. Af.
223 (1985) [hereinafter Justice as Fairness] and Rawls, The Idea of an Overlapping Consensus,
7 Oxford J. Legal Stud. 1 (1987) [hereinafter Overlapping Consensus]. The idea is introduced
in J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice 387-88 (1971) [hereinafter Theory].
233

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