From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on justice, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on justice. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best philosophy books on justice in no particular order.
Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? – Michael Sandel
Category: General Introduction | Length: 320 pages | Published: 2010
Publisher description: Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, national service, the moral limits of markets―Sandel relates the big questions of political philosophy to the most vexing issues of the day, and shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions as well.
Justice is lively, thought-provoking, and wise―an essential new addition to the small shelf of books that speak convincingly to the hard questions of our civic life.
Justice: An Anthology – Louis P. Pojman
Category: Anthology | Length: 464 pages | Published: 2005
Publisher description: A comprehensive anthology on justice with readings that offer the different theories on the importance and placement of justice in society. The well-argued, accessible articles encompass classic to contemporary theories and cover both positive and negative.
The Oxford Handbook of Distributive Justice – Serena Oslaretti
Category: Handbook | Length: 752 pages | Published: 2018
Publisher description: Distributive justice has come to the fore in political philosophy in recent decades: how should we arrange our social and economic institutions so as to distribute fairly the benefits and burdens of social cooperation? Thirty-eight leading figures from philosophy and political theory present specially written critical assessments of the state of research into a broad range of questions about distributive justice. The first seventeen chapters consider how to understand distributive justice and its importance in our world. The remaining fifteen chapters investigate questions about the implementation of distributive justice with regard to a range of aspects of society, including gender, race, the family, education, work, health, language, migration, and climate change. This Oxford Handbook will be a rich and authoritative resource for anyone working on theories of justice.
Republic – Plato
Category: Classic | Length: 300 pages
Publisher description: The revised edition of Grube’s classic translation follows and furthers Grube’s noted success in combining fidelity to Plato’s text with natural readability, while reflecting the fruits of new scholarship and insights into Plato’s thought since publication of the first edition in 1974. A new introduction, index, and bibliography by Professor Reeve are included in this new rendering.
Politics – Aristotle
Category: Classic | Length: 512 pages
Publisher description: In The Politics Aristotle addresses the questions that lie at the heart of political science. How should society be ordered to ensure the happiness of the individual? Which forms of government are best and how should they be maintained? By analysing a range of city constitutions – oligarchies, democracies and tyrannies – he seeks to establish the strengths and weaknesses of each system to decide which are the most effective, in theory and in practice. A hugely significant work, which has influenced thinkers as diverse as Aquinas and Machiavelli, The Politics remains an outstanding commentary on fundamental political issues and concerns, and provides fascinating insights into the workings and attitudes of the Greek city-state.
A Theory of Justice – John Rawls
Category: Classic | Length: 560 pages
Publisher description: Since it appeared in 1971, John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice has become a classic. The author has now revised the original edition to clear up a number of difficulties he and others have found in the original book.
Rawls aims to express an essential part of the common core of the democratic tradition–justice as fairness–and to provide an alternative to utilitarianism, which had dominated the Anglo-Saxon tradition of political thought since the nineteenth century. Rawls substitutes the ideal of the social contract as a more satisfactory account of the basic rights and liberties of citizens as free and equal persons. “Each person,” writes Rawls, “possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override.” Advancing the ideas of Rousseau, Kant, Emerson, and Lincoln, Rawls’s theory is as powerful today as it was when first published.
The Idea of Justice – Amartya Sen
Category: Contemporary | Length: 496 pages | Published: 2009
Publisher description: Social justice: an ideal, forever beyond our grasp; or one of many practical possibilities? More than a matter of intellectual discourse, the idea of justice plays a real role in how―and how well―people live. And in this book the distinguished scholar Amartya Sen offers a powerful critique of the theory of social justice that, in its grip on social and political thinking, has long left practical realities far behind.
The transcendental theory of justice, the subject of Sen’s analysis, flourished in the Enlightenment and has proponents among some of the most distinguished philosophers of our day; it is concerned with identifying perfectly just social arrangements, defining the nature of the perfectly just society. The approach Sen favors, on the other hand, focuses on the comparative judgments of what is “more” or “less” just, and on the comparative merits of the different societies that actually emerge from certain institutions and social interactions. …
Rescuing Justice and Equality – G. A. Cohen
Category: Contemporary | Length: 448 pages | Published: 2008
Publisher description: In this stimulating work of political philosophy, acclaimed philosopher G. A. Cohen sets out to rescue the egalitarian thesis that in a society in which distributive justice prevails, people’s material prospects are roughly equal. Arguing against the Rawlsian version of a just society, Cohen demonstrates that distributive justice does not tolerate deep inequality.
In the course of providing a deep and sophisticated critique of Rawls’s theory of justice, Cohen demonstrates that questions of distributive justice arise not only for the state but also for people in their daily lives. The right rules for the macro scale of public institutions and policies also apply, with suitable adjustments, to the micro level of individual decision-making. …
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Justice – Harvard University
- Theories of Justice – University of Washington
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Justice
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Western Theories of Justice
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Introductory Books on Political Philosophy
- The Best Philosophy Books on Global Justice
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A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations – Lennox Johnson
Category: Reference | Length: 145 pages | Published: 2019
Publisher’s Description: A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.