Utilitarianism is the moral philosophy that the morally right action is that which leads to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. The term justice means getting what you deserve both good and bad. However there is significant disagreement between justice theorists as to what causes who to deserve what. In this essay I will be discussing John Rawls' concept of contract justice and Robert Nozick's concept of justice as entitlement. All political theories can be said to benefit some groups in society more than other and so there are winners and losers to all political philosophies.
Utilitarianism is a moral philosophy first advocated by Jeremy Bentham. It argues that the morally right action is that which creates the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people (Smart1973). Hence it could be described as a consequentialist theory of morality to which the goal is human happiness. Although utilitarianism can be used to make individual moral decisions for the purposes of this essay I will be referring to political utilitarianism: the morally right law or policy for a government to enact is that which leads to the greatest happiness to the greatest number. There have been many subsequent versions of utilitarianism that aim to make up for the shortcomings of the original form each of which have their own shortcomings and subsequent theories to compensate for them. These include:
Rule utilitarianism states that the morally right action is that which if consistently done in that situation would on balance lead to the greatest happiness for the greatest number (Smart 1973). This theory arose as a response to the criticism that certain actions when performed in isolation might maximize utility but if done repeatedly would lead to an overall loss of utility. For example a government refusing to pay its national debts and instead using the money to feed the starving would maximise utility if done once but if done repeatedly nobody would lend money causing an overall loss of utility.
Preference satisfaction utilitarianism states that the morally right policy is that which satisfies the preferences of the most people. This arose as a response to the criticism that people enjoy different things and it is not for a government to tell people what will make them happy. For example hedonistic utilitarianism suggest a government should ban upsetting art forms as it detracts from happiness whereas preference satisfaction utilitarianism allows them to experience upsetting art if that is what they choose.
Negative utilitarianism is the theory that the morally right action is that which avoids the most pain. This arose as a response to the criticism that more utility is lost by inflicting harm than by withholding benefit.
There is a consensus that justice means getting what you deserve. However the question of who deserves what is a difficult question for which there are many answers and no consensus. The two theories I will be discussing in this essay is Rawlsian contract justice and Nozickian justice as entitlement.
John Rawls argues in A theory of justice that a rule is just if people have agreed to it as a contract. He argues that we cannot consent to an unbiased contract if we know how it will affect us because we will inevitably be biased by considerations of our own interests. To remove self interest from the equation Rawls uses a thought experiment called the original position. In the original position rational agents are given the power to choose the organising principals of the basic structure of the society that they will live in. The agents are allowed general information about societies in general such as economic and psychological theory to help them make their decision. However they are denied information about the specific society they will be living in such as whether it is wealthy or poor or...