Two Concepts of the Basic Structure, and their Relevance to Global Justice


  • Miriam Ronzoni



G. A. Cohen argues that John Rawls’s focus on the basic structure of society as the exclusive subject of social justice is misguided. I argue that two understandings of the notion of basic structure seem to be present in the literature, either in implicit or in explicit terms. (1) According to the first, the basic structure is to be equated with a given set of institutions: if they endorse the right principles of justice, the basic structure of society is just; (2) According to the second, a society has a just basic structure if and only if its institutional web manages to realize the relevant principles of justice as well it can. In (2), the institutional structure is not a given: different social circumstances call for different institutional solutions in order to achieve a just basic structure overall. The first part of the paper make a case for (2), and explores some of its normative implications. The second part asks which consequences this understanding may have for the idea of a global basic structure.