Rawls Theory of Justice
A contemporary philosopher, John Rawls (1921-2002), is noted for his contributions to political and moral philosophy. In particular, Rawls' discussion about justice introduced five important concepts into discourse, including: the two principles of justice, the “original position” and “veil of ignorance”. Rawls most famous work is, A Theory of Justice (1971) gives an introduction to this body of thought and he emphasises the importance justice has on governing and organising a society.
The problem arises by defining what the term means theoretically. One of two definitions can be used, the first being definition based on ones merit or lack thereof. This “merit theory” of justice uses merit to decide how an individual of the society will be treated based on the contribution to the society. The other is the “need theory” of justice where is it assumed every individual should help those in need or who are less privileged.
Attempting to balance the demands posed by these rival theories, Rawls maintained that inequalities in society can only be justified if they produce increased benefits for the entire society and only if those previously the most disadvantaged members of society are no worse off as a result of any inequality. An inequality, then, is justified if it contributes to social utility, as the merit theory asserts. But, at the same time, Rawls argued, priority must be given to the needs of the least advantaged, as the needs theory asserts. Thus, differential rewards are allowed to the advantaged members of society but not because of any merit on their part. No, these rewards are tolerated because they provide an incentive for the advantaged which ultimately will prove beneficial to society (e.g., taxing the advantaged with the goal of redistributing the wealth to provide for the least advantaged).
Using “the original position” and experimental thought where agents behind “veil of ignorance” choose principles to govern society. Rawls argued that two principles serve to organize society, the "liberty principle" and the "difference principle." He rooted the original position in and extended the concept of “social contract” previously espoused by Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke which made the principles of justice the object of the contract binding members of society together. In addition, Rawls’ advocacy of treating people only as ends and never as means rooted his philosophical speculations in and extended Kant’s categorical imperative. According to Rawls a society is a venture between free and equal members for the purpose of mutual advantage. Cooperation among members makes life better because cooperation increases the stock of what it is rational for members of society to desire irrespective of whatever else its members may want. Rawls calls these desires “primary goods” which include among others: health, rights, income, and the social bases of self-respect. Rawls noted that there would be disagreement when deciding how the burden would be shared amongst the people. Rawls responded to this challenge by invoking the original position, in which representative members of a society would determine the answers to these difficult questions. That is, absent any government, the representatives would rationally discuss what sort of government will be supported by a social contract which will achieve justice among all members of society. The purpose for this discourse would not be to justify governmental authority but to identify the basic principles that would govern society when government is established. The chief task of these representatives would not be to protect individual rights but to promote the welfare of society (1971, p. 199). To this end, the representatives do not know—are "veiled" from—which place in society they will occupy. In addition, every factor which might bias a decision (e.g., one’s tastes, preferences, talents, handicaps, conception of the...
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