2 Rawls’ Theory of Justice (Justice as Fairness) Rawls presents his theory as a modern alternative to utilitarianism, one that he hopes will be compatible with the belief that justice must be associated with fairness and the moral equality of persons” (Shaw et al. 2009, p. 249).Conceives a society as a cooperative venture among its members (Shaw et al. 2009, p. 249)Not based on the notion of natural rights (e.g. liberty & property) prior to any political or social organisation (Shaw et al. 2009, p. 250).In this way, Rawls offers a modern variant of the social contract theory which differs decisively from Nozick's entitlement theory based loosely on Locke's social contract theory.
3 The Original Position Rawls asks: In the original position: “what would we choose as the fundamental principles to govern our society if, hypothetically, we were to meet for this purpose in the original position?”In the original position:We can’t choose what we think is “just” –based on existing ideas of justice. This doesn’t solve anything.Consequently, people will select principles based on self- interest. This will lead to disagreement as each group of individuals will support principles that favour them.To avoid this Rawls asks us to imagine that people in this position do not know what social position or status they hold in society - this is called “the veil of ignorance”
4 The Original Position Under the veil of ignorance: The people in the original position have no knowledge about themselves or their situation that would lead them to argue from a biased point of view.According to Rawls (in Shaw et al. 2009, p. 252)They do have a general knowledge of history (e.g. where we came from), sociology (e.g. how we live) and psychology (e.g. how we think)The veil forces people to be objective, impartial and makes agreement possibleThe circumstances of the original position are genuinely equal and fair, therefore the principles selected have a good claim to be principles of justice
5 Choosing the Principles of Justice Although people in the original position are ignorant of their individual circumstances, they know that whatever their particular goals, interests and talents turn out to be, they will want more, rather than less, of what Rawls calls 'primary social goods.' These include not just income and wealth, but also rights, liberties, opportunities, status and self-respect (Shaw, et al , p. 252)What is to be distributed in a Rawlsian society is not exclusively economic. Principles of justice will not simply redistribute wealth and income. What matters for a good life is genuine opportunity to gain access to primary social goods across generations. Wealth and income often enable us to have such opportunities for access. To have a fair, equal human life is to enjoy self-respect, opportunities, rights, status and liberties not only oneself but for one’s children and future generationsOnce the veil is lifted, people will have more specific ideas about what is good for them- they may have individual goals. But whatever these turn out to be, they will almost certainly be furthered, and definitely never limited, by the fact that people in the original position secured for themselves more rather than less of primary social goods (Shaw et al. 2009, p.252).
6 Choosing the Principles of Justice People in the original position, under the veil of ignorance:Are conservative…they don’t want to gamble with their future or their children’s futureAre unlikely to choose a utilitarian distribution. People are not willing to risk sacrificing their own happiness for overall social well-being.Instead, they will follow the maxi-min rule for decision making:They will select the alternative under which the worst that could happen to you is better than the worst that could happen to you under any other alternative (this maximises the minimum you will receive) (Shaw et al. 2009, p. 253).
7 Rawls’ Two Principles of Justice Any social order people developed using Rawls’ “thought experiment” cannot violate the following two principles in any way. All deliberations must respect and defer to them. They are:Principle of LibertyPrinciple of Difference
8 Rawls’ Two Principles of Justice According to Rawls (in Shaw et al. 2009, p. 254):The first principle entails liberties such as democratic freedom of thought, conscience, religion etc.These liberties cannot restrict or violate similar schemes of liberty for othersIt does not include the right to own certain kinds of property, and the freedom of contract as understood by the doctrine of laissez-faire.
9 Rawls’ Two Principles of Justice Rawls second principle ensures that social and economic inequalities must meet two requirements:Positions that bring greater benefit & rewards should be competed for on the basis of fair equality of opportunityThey work to the greatest expected benefit of the least advantaged group in society (i.e. favour the least well off) (Shaw et al. 2009, p. 254)Why? Because rational, self-interested people will seek to maximise the minimum.
10 Fairness & the Basic Structure Rawls rejects utilitarianism on the grounds that maximizing the total well-being of society could permit an unfair distribution of pains and benefits. Rawls objects to any moral theory which supports a gain for some of access to primary social goods at the expense of others in order to achieve aggregate benefits (Shaw et al. 2009, p. 257).Rawls also rejects Nozick’s view that the primary subject of justice is transactions between individuals (Shaw et al. 2009, p. 257).Justice is “the basic structure (of society), the fundamental social institutions and their arrangement into one scheme” (Shaw et al , p. 257).Furthermore, structure shapes the wants, desires, hopes, and ambitions of individuals (Shaw et al. 2009, p. 258)
11 Benefits & BurdensThere will be differences between human beings. However, states Rawls, there is nothing natural or inevitable about the weight attached by society to these differences (it’s a genetic intergenerational status, social and educational class and connections lottery) (Shaw et al. 2009, p. 258).Even our personal characteristics are a result of the environment in which we are raised. We cannot claim moral credit for our special talents or even our virtuous character (Shaw et al. 2009, p. 259).A true account of justice should strive to minimise (not maximise) the social consequences of these arbitrary, natural differences (Shaw et al, p. 258).