The Role of Justice in Society

Topics: John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Utilitarianism Pages: 8 (2393 words) Published: March 22, 2005
Through the egalitarian reasoning of John Rawls and the act-utilitarianist perspective of J.J.C. Smart, I will analyze the concept of justice. In accordance with Rawls, I intend to argue that any changes in society that will increase the burden carried by the poorest 5% are unjust, even if these changes increase the average level of happiness for the other 95%. With regard to ethics, justice is defined as fairness, where all situations should be treated alike. For one to exhibit justice, one must portray the quality of being fair and reasonable in all situations. While egalitarians evaluate justice based on equality, utilitarians are only interested in justice as a means to an end. Smart advocates the principle of utility, which defines the morally action as whatever produces the greatest net happiness for everyone affected by that act. To identify an act as ‘just,' Rawls employs the theory of justice as fairness. This theory stresses the principle of equal rights, and that an act is ‘just' if equality is realized by everyone affected by the act.

Before delving into John Rawls' views on a ‘just' society it is essential to understand his perception of the role of justice in society, as described in his book A Theory of Justice. Justice in society enforces individual's rights and to "[deny] that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others". When the notion of justice becomes shared by all citizens, and equality is achieved, civility between members of society will restrict the use of some individuals as means to personal ends. Overall, Rawls argues that the most distinctive role of justice in society is to equally distribute rights and duties to individuals.

The underlying egalitarian viewpoint is that individuals do not possess any characteristics that would "justify inequalities in the distribution of social benefits and burdens". The principles of justice, as depicted in Rawls book, are chosen by individuals an initial position of equality. These principles can be applied to solve structural issues in society such as the distribution of social and economic advantages, the distribution of basic rights and duties to citizens. Rawls argues that in order for the principles of justice to establish an ideal society, where equality between citizens is realized, several hypothetical conditions must be in place. These conditions include the original position, the veil of ignorance, and the two basic principles of justice.

Rawls concept of ‘justice as fairness' summarizes how equality between individuals in the original position allows the "principles of justice are agreed to in an initial situation that is fair". In this "initial position of equality" citizens lack all knowledge of personal issues, and their social and economic status. The equality achieved by the original position ensures that citizens act behind a ‘veil of ignorance' when choosing the principles of justice. The ‘veil of ignorance' and the maxamin rule ensure that the choice of principles is not advantageous to some, and detrimental to others. Once under the veil of ignorance, citizens use the maxamin rule when choosing principles to base their society on. This rule captures the idea that since all citizens are oblivious to their position in the world, they must be prepared to fulfill any role. Therefore, we can conclude that each person will decide on a society where the least fortunate individuals are in the best situation possible. Through the original position, we are able to see the creation of justice.

There are two basic principles of justice that Rawls believes would be agreed to by individuals in the ‘original position'. The first principle encapsulates the concept liberty, where each individual should be guaranteed as much liberty as the next individual. The second principle maintains that "social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both reasonably expected to be to...

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