Offer a Critique of What John Rawls Meant by ‘Fair Equality of Opportunity’

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  • Topic: John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Egalitarianism
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  • Published : February 26, 2011
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Q. Offer a critique of what John Rawls meant by ‘Fair Equality of Opportunity’ Introduction:
The purpose of this essay is to discuss what ‘Fair Equality of Opportunity’ means and John Rawls view point on this subject. Rawls was a well known philosopher from the USA and arguably the most important political philosopher of the 20th century. Rawls is well known for using the basic structure of society as his subject matter and most famously for his work entitled, A Theory of Justice (1971). Here he explains how the “logical ordering of principles of justice can help to structure and regulate an ideal structure society” (John Rawls, 2003) This is not to say that the theory of justice principles can be used to restore justice to society, Rawls simply thinks that basic rights and duties assigned to individuals of society should be equally distributed and that if social and economic advantages were to be evenly distributed to all members of society this would inevitably help regulate and maintain an ideal and fair society. We will look at what Rawls means by “fair equality of opportunity”, by looking at what he believes is fair, equal and what he means by opportunity. Discussion:

“Rawls argues that the term 'justice as fairness' does not imply that justice and fairness are identical, but that the principles of justice are agreed to under fair conditions by individuals who are in a situation of equality” (John Rawls, 2003). This statement above by Rawls is stating that if individuals are treated fairly this is when justice is being done and equality prevails. There are two principles outlined by Rawls in ‘justice of fairness’ which are: First Principle:

Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all. Second Principle:
(a) To the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, ... and (b) Attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.” (Callinicos, A, 2000). Based on these two principles Equality can then be defined as everyone being treated fairly and in the same way hence, job opportunities, access to welfare, benefits, healthcare and education should be open to all individuals regardless of colour, class, gender, religion or their status. So “all social values-liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the base of self respect are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any, or all, of these goods is to the advantage of the least favoured. In other words, the presumption is in favour of equality.”(Callinicos, A, 2000). Throughout modern society there is evidence that inequality exists and although there may be opportunities there they may not always be fair access to the available opportunities. If you are born into a wealthier family there appears to be more opportunities available from having private health care to private education leading to better greater job prospects. However if you were born a in less wealthy family you will not have the benefits of private education or private health care as you may not be able to afford them. Less wealthy families would have limited funds and sending their children to private schools would be difficult (work and society p.153-180). If it was possible to achieve equality and if everyone had the same income and people were no better or worse than each other would this kind of society really flourish? Firstly achieving inequality is very difficult to achieve and to be honest it would probably make for a very boring world. Equality would create more financially stability and more happiness for individuals however realistically I don’t think it will work (Drake, R. (2001), p48). As Blackstone (1969) states in the principles of social policy p.48 that “A society without differences and, concomitantly, one without differential treatment of persons, would not only be boring, it would also be one in which the...
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