By in Politics

Rawls' Theory of Justice

In his book entitled A Theory of Justice, John Rawls, a noted Harvard philosopher, has attempted a brilliant formulation about the concept of justice. Rawls talks of a hypothetical situation which he calls "the original position" in trying to elucidate his concept of justice. Let us imagine, says Rawls, a community of individuals living in the original position "under the veil of ignorance." Assuming that they don't know their sex, race, natural abilities, social status or their economic conditions. They are, however, self-interested and rational. In such a situation, these people, under the veil of ignorance, may not try to take advantage of each other. It is thus assumed that, since they are rational and are after their common welfare, their choices and decisions are fair.Hence, justice is fairness. Everyone is fair to everyone else in the hypothetical community, living under the veil of ignorance., the so-called original position. But suppose some individuals in the original position would introduce and promote principles that would support inequalities in their society, for example, "Slavery is good". The outcome would be that, if these people become the masters, they would gain immensely and take advantage of the others; if they become slaves, they would lose immensely and submit to the whims and caprices of their masters; and the master-slave relationship would be made to appear legitimate and justified by the principle "Slavery is good." For insofar as the veil of ignorance keeps them from knowing their social positions, nobody would do anything to endorse a principle that might condemn and alter the situation. Simply put, justice is being fair to oneself and especially to others. Since the original position of Rawls where everyone is ignorant about their personal and social backgrounds only exists in the mind, we could only take his theory as a simple guideline of justice. He was just trying to impart to us that justice can only be achieved if we try to set aside our personal and cultural biases. The only thing that we should keep in mind is our welfare and of the others as a rational and self-interested human beings. To further clear it, Rawls speaks of a two-fold principle of social justice. First, equal access to the basic human rights and liberties . This principle defines and secures equal liberties of citizenship.Our basic rights and liberties include the right to vote and to be eligible for public office and freedom of speech and peaceable assembly., liberty of conscience, freedom of thought, right of ownership and freedom from arbitrary arrest and seizure. As it appears, this first principle guarantees a system of equal rights and liberties for every citizen. It prohibits the bartering away of liberty for social or monetary considerations.No citizen, for example, may sell his/her right to vote. The second principle is fair equality of opportunity and the equal distribution of socio-economic inequalities. As much as the availability of resources will allow, everyone should be given an opportunity for self-development or to receive medical treatment.This principle deals more with the distribution of social goods and/or medical resources than with liberty.Rawls admits that some individuals are born more affluent than others, and they enjoy advantageous social positions. Such socio-economic differences are neither just nor unjust per se. He maintains, however, that in a just society, such differences are tolerable only when they can be shown to benefit everyone, including those who have the fewest advantages. Thus, a just society, in Rawls view, is not in which everyone is equal but it is one in which inequalities must be demonstrated to be legitimate.

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MegL wrote on May 16, 2015, 1:48 PM

Interesting. I think that people naturally categorise everything: it is a way of dealing with a complex world, so I am not sure if I could envisage a community living in ignorance. I would need to read his book.