In A Theory of Justice, Rawls argues for a principled reconciliation of liberty and equality. Central to this effort is an account of the circumstances of justice, inspired by David Hume, and a fair choice situation for parties facing such circumstances, similar to some of Immanuel Kant's views. Principles of justice are sought to guide the conduct of the parties. These parties are recognized to face moderate scarcity, and they are neither naturally altruistic nor purely egoistic. They have ends which they seek to advance, but prefer to advance them through cooperation with others on mutually acceptable terms. Rawls offers a model of a fair choice situation (the original position with its veil of ignorance) within which parties would hypothetically choose mutually acceptable principles of justice. Under such constraints, Rawls believes that parties would find his favoured principles of justice to be especially attractive, winning out over varied alternatives, including utilitarian and right-libertarian accounts Three Theories of Justice:
Utilitarianism, Justice as Fairness, and Libertarianism
A society, according to Utilitarianism, is just to the extent that its laws and institutions are such as to promote the greatest overall or average happiness of its members. How do we determine the aggregate, or overall, happiness of the members of a society? This would seem to present a real problem. For happiness is not, like temperature or weight, directly measurable by any means that we have available. So utilitarians must approach the matter indirectly. They will have to rely on indirect measures, in other words. What would these be, and how can they be identified? The traditional idea at this point is to rely upon (a) a theory of the human good (i.e., of what is good for human beings, of what is required for them to flourish) and (b) an account of the social conditions and forms of organization essential to the realization of that good. People, of course, do not agree on what kind of life would be the most desirable. Intellectuals, artists, ministers, politicians, corporate bureaucrats, financiers, soldiers, athletes, salespersons, workers: all these different types of people, and more besides, will certainly not agree completely on what is a happy, satisfying, or desirable life. Very likely they will disagree on some quite important points. All is not lost, however. For there may yet be substantial agreement--enough, anyway, for the purposes of a theory of justice --about the general conditions requisite to human flourishing in all these otherwise disparate kinds of life. First of all there are at minimum certain basic needs that must be satisfied in any desirable kind of life. Basic needs, says James Sterba, are those needs "that must be satisfied in order not to seriously endanger a person's mental or physical well-being." Basic needs, if not satisfied, lead to lacks and deficiencies with respect to a standard of mental and physical well-being. A person's needs for food, shelter, medical care, protection, companionship, and self-development are, at least in part, needs of this sort. [Sterba, Contemporary Social and Political Philosophy (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1995). A basic-needs minimum, then, is the minimum wherewithal required for a person to meet his or her basic needs. Such needs are universal. People will be alike in having such...