Power Freedom and Justice

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Is it possible for liberalism to produce a theory of social justice? In your answer must address the arguments of Rawls and Nozick.

Over the years, different political philosophies have raised values, principles and ideals that have played an important role in the creation of social policies. The following essay will address two different theories, which reflect the philosophical basis of social policies: Rawlsian liberalism and Nozickean libertarianism.

John Rawls’ liberalism focuses on the promotion of universal liberty and freedom, which will enable the entire society to exercise their individuality. However, this individuality will only be achieved if the inherent differences between individuals in society are recognized and respected, such as wealth disparities or different plans of life. Rawls defends the idea that, in order for liberty and freedom to practice individuality, individuals need to be guaranteed a moral and political equality, which ignores social differences. In other words, those born less advantaged with less resources must be considered as having the same moral and political relevance than the more advantaged individuals. Therefore, Rawls believes that individuality must be seen as a universal and non-selective right that does not prioritize advantaged individuals in society. However, he does not pretend to undermine their liberty, as they will have the same opportunities to exercise their own individuality.

In order to guarantee the universal right of individuality, John Rawls developed “justice as fairness”, which referred to his own understanding of social justice (Maza, 2009). Rawls believed that social institutions, through two basic principles of justice, would guarantee the exercise of individuality. The first principle should require equality in the assignment of basic rights and duties, meaning that all individuals should enjoy the same liberties, no matter their differences. On the other hand, Rawls admitted that there could be certain social and economic inequalities in society. However, these inequalities would only be considered just if the resulted in compensating benefits for everyone, and in particular, to the least advantaged members of society. This second principle will then justify that the hardship of some would be offset by a greater good in the sum. The result of these principles would be individuals who have the right to exercise their individuality through justice as fairness.

However, it must not be confused with the idea that Rawls wanted the wealthier and more advantaged individuals to sacrifice their wealth for the poorer individuals in society. Through the principle regarding social and economic inequalities, talents and efforts would be rewarded, and wealthy individuals would benefit from social cooperation and still be able to pursue their life prospects. But, according to the theory of justice of fairness, social institutions would have to redistribute the gains obtained from social cooperation, enabling then the less advantaged individuals to have access to the benefits obtained. Consequently, through a fair redistribution, individuals of social classes, including the worse off, would increase their life prospects and their individuality.

On the other hand we find the American political philosopher and his theory of libertarianism, Robert Nozick. Differing from Rawls in many aspects, he also aimed to achieve individuality among society, as the recognition of such would then guarantee the recognition of the right of self-ownership. With this he referred to the ownership of our bodies, consequently, whatever we produced with it.

One of the main opposing ideas from Rawls was that Nozick rejected any redistribution of resources, as for him, having the state taking away part of what our body had produced to give it to others meant the violation of individual rights, and could be considered a certain level of slavery (Vallentyne, 2012). It was,...
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