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Justice as Fairness by John Rawls.

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1 Justice as Fairness by John Rawls

2 Rawls looks at justice. Kant’s ethics and Utilitarianism are about right and wrong actions. For example: Is it ethical to lie on a job application to preserve legitimate privacy? Rawls’ theory is about distributive justice. What is the ethically correct way to distribute benefits and burdens in society?

3 Rawls’ theory is a version of social contract theory
Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau. State of nature, law of nature, creation of civil society to improve/secure quality of life. US society rests on such social contracts. Declaration of Independence – “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people…to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station….” Constitution – “We the people…do ordain and establish….”

4 Contractarianism Moral or political theories based on the idea of a social contract or agreement among individuals for mutual advantage

5 Rawls’ Theory of Justice as Fairness

6 Rawls asks, “What principles of justice would people chose at the founding of society?”
A hypothetical, not real, moment – but still a doable thought experiment. A moment when people know nothing about their future. Class or social status. Intelligence or other capabilities. Social place in terms of gender, race, etc. Wealth.


8 Rawls’ operational definition of “justice as fairness.”
Think yourself back to the original position and put yourself behind the veil of ignorance. Ask yourself whether a proposed rule for distributing benefits and burdens is acceptable to you. If not, then it cannot be fair, and therefore it cannot be just – so, the rule must be rejected.

9 This operational procedure produces Rawls’ formal definition of “justice as fairness.”
Justice = satisfying two general principles: “First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.” “Second: social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all.”

10 Rawls’ first principle.
The basic liberties for all citizens: Political liberty (right to vote and be eligible for public office). Freedom of speech and assembly. Liberty of conscience and freedom of thought. Freedom regarding your own person. Right to hold personal property. Freedom from arbitrary arrest and seizure as these are understood under the rule of law.

11 Rawls’ second principle.
Holding positions of authority and offices of command open is clear enough. For example, no hereditary positions. No exclusions based on gender, race, etc. No “tests” based on wealth or property. Arranging social and economic inequities so that everyone benefits is less clear. However, Rawls provides the framework for thinking about this – original position and veil of ignorance.

12 A possible example. Proposed rule: “Women should always make less money than men.” On average women make ~75% of what men make, and this has not changed over the past 30 years. Men make more than women in the same job. So, here is an unequal distribution. Does it benefit everyone? Would you accept this rule – if you were behind the veil of ignorance?

13 Priorities among Rawls’ principles.
The basic rights and liberties for all principle has first priority and takes precedence. This means, among other things, that you cannot justify a decrease in liberty on the basis of increased social or economic benefit.

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