Rawls Theory of Justice as Fairness

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Aman Birgi
100836261
PHIL 3340
Vida Panitch

Part A: Political Liberalism

John Rawls' Political Liberalism is an answer to the most common criticism of his Theory of Justice as Fairness where critics argued that it was just another conception of justice that is incompatible with other doctrines. It failed to clarify the concept of the good in a reasonable pluralist society by not distinguishing between an independent political theory and a comprehensive moral theory addressing the problem of Justice. This leads Rawls to refine his initial theory in Political Liberalism and ground it in a political structure rather than a metaphysical one. Sandel still has concerns about the way Rawls deals with this problem of neutrality vs. perfectionism, which stems from their varied views of liberalism and communitarianism.

Rawls theory of justice talks about the problem of distributive justice, where the allotment of social primary goods in a society is arranged in a certain way, and opts for a method that focuses attaining equal liberty while giving those worse off a chance to flourish and using the resources of the better off to help the ones worse off. His work tries to put everyone on equal footing from the start, using the veil of ignorance, before deliberating on common principles that will be accepted by all. The deliberation inevitably leads to 2 conclusions, he contends, of everyone having equal rights to basic liberties and of inequalities being arranged so they provide the least advantaged with the greatest benefit while keeping vocations accessible under a fair equality of opportunity,

One problem that this theory leads to is that the difference principle, where people that are better off need to compensate for those worse off is a restriction on liberty of those individuals that are better off. The stability of the theory in the long run has also been questioned, with emphasis on whether his two principles of justice can endure in a pluralist society. There is doubt to whether this theory can be effective in a non-ideal situation where there is only partial compliance as well as concerns that Rawls theory draws specifically on liberal perspectives and so does not hold for people with other perspectives such as utilitarianism or communitarianism. To counter these claims, Rawls suggests, in political Liberalism, that a government should take a neutral stance with regards to conceptions of the good and instead focus on a formulation of a more basic and plausible theory that deals only with the 'basic structure' of society.

Political Liberalism narrows down the scope of Justice as Fairness to a political one where it tries to make possible a system of society, that is just and stable over time, which is made up of free and equal citizens that differ fundamentally in their religious, philosophical and moral views. Rawls posits that a liberal conception of the role of justice should be the objective, and not a conception of the good that is comprehensive. He does this by making slight adjustments to the principles that are arrived at from behind the veil of ignorance. The two principles now read: “a. Each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme for all; and in this scheme the equal political liberties, and only those liberties, are to be guaranteed their fair value. b. Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: first, they are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and second, they are to be to the greatest benefit to the least advantaged members of society.”[1] The modifications made in the new theory are a change from 'equal right' to 'equal claim' and from 'system of basic liberties' to 'a fully adequate scheme of basic rights and liberties' in the first principle. This...
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