Home

Introduction

Justice is a fundamental value of political science, forming the main preoccupation of both Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics. It can most conveniently be divided into two aspects, procedural justice, and substantive, or ‘Social’, justice. Procedural justice is considerably the easier to deal with, Involving as it does, relatively technical questions such as due process, fair trial and equality before the law. Substantive justice refers to the overall fairness of a society in its division of rewards and burdens. Such divisions can be made on the basis of social efficiency (for example, incentive payments), merit, desert, need or several other criteria. The principal meaning of ‘social’ justice is probably a matter of giving to people what they are ‘entitled to’ or ‘need’ (the concepts are not identical) in terms of basic social rights, food, clothing, housing, etc., and thereafter distributing any surplus in a fair and equitable way. Although it is clearly a matter of great importance, ‘justice’ as a political value can really be analysed no further than to say that it requires a ‘fair’ distribution of goods. It is, in fact, often described as ‘distributive’ justice, and the criteria which count as ‘fair’ depend on previous ideological judgments. In this sense Plato and Aristotle were using the word translated as ‘justice’ to connote a much broader summation of the good in political life. An increasingly important application of the political sense of justice has been in the international arena, where the disparity in wealth between, for example, the Third World and the First World, is treated as a failure of justice.

Justice.

Definition of Social Contract

Social contract theory was especially important around the time of the European Enlightenment, the most famous exponents being Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. The main purpose of these theories was to provide a sound logical base for the particular polity most favoured by the individual theorists on the basis of an appeal to the rational self-interest of ordinary people. Historically the tradition arose because, with the Enlightenment, the possibility of justifying a political system by reference to tradition or to some theological argument in terms of God’s will or the divine right of kings vanished. The basic argument always took the same form: assume that people are living without any government at all. That is, they are free and autonomous individuals, but also subject to all the difficulties and dangers of living in a state of anarchy. Would such free people wish to have a government? What sort of government would they wish to see set up, and under what conditions would they give up just what proportion of their independence for the benefits of such a government? The answers which come out of this particular thought experiment depend very much on the description of the anarchical set-up

(Usually called the state of nature) put in. Hobbes, for example, painted the state of nature as so awful that he thought it likely that consent would freely be given to the most authoritarian and draconian of governments. Locke, however, argued that the state of nature was only mildly awkward, and thus derived a very liberal and weak state from his social contract. It was not necessarily assumed that the social contract had ever been an actual historical event; the emphasis was much more on a logical defence of a hypothetical state by suggesting what would happen were people free to make such a choice. The method of theorizing became unfashionable for a long time, being replaced by utilitarian arguments which tended to get to much the same conclusions from a different approach. Since the 1960s modified versions of social contract theories have reappeared, especially in the work of the most important of all modern political philosophers, John Rawls.

State of Nature

The state of nature is a powerful concept in many brands of political theory, but especially social contract theory and its modern versions such as that developed by John Rawls. The state of nature is an imaginative reconstruction of how human life and interpersonal relations might have been before the creation of organized political society. Theoretically such an image is used to deduce what the major drawbacks of living in a pre-political environment would be, and thereby to decide what rules for organized political life would recommend themselves to those in a position to make such a choice. Naturally much depends on the original description of how people unconstrained by political authority behave. Taking a very pessimistic view of human nature, as did Thomas Hobbes, then the recommendations for the best form of political organization are going to be very different from those given by a political theorist like John Locke, who thinks that people would be able to co-operate fairly well without government, and would thus only agree to a rather limited form of political control. The obvious problem is the lack of any evidence about non-political social systems, and the arguments about the form of the state of nature are entirely hypothetical. Nevertheless, given some basic views about human nature, it can be a theoretical technique of great analytic power, even though it is now accepted that man has never lived outside of at least a rudimentary state. In A Theory of Justice, and in later works, culminating in Political Liberalism, John Rawls develops a detailed and persuasive theory, which is concerned with providing a theory of justice in accord with the liberal-democratic conviction that concerns for the liberties of individuals in society must be tempered by some sort of condition ensuring that no social or natural contingencies — no inherited advantages of political influence, material wealth or natural ability — should irrevocably or overwhelmingly determine life chances; or more specifically, these morally arbitrary factors should not determine the value of political liberties to moral persons. Rawls’s first articulation of his theory of justice (1971) centres around a model of social life and individual capabilities that he calls the “Original Position.” This model is based upon plausible assumptions about.

a) The circumstances of social life, and

(b) The politically relevant capabilities of human beings. Rawls’s model allows his theory to make explicit the correspondence between the convictions underlying these assumptions and the principles of justice which the theory derives from the model. This correspondence then serves to justify the theory’s evaluative and prescriptive outcomes.

Chronology of Justice

Dates & Era Events Happens
6th century BC Justice as we know it dates back to sixth century B.C. Athens with the genius of Solon. Poet, philosopher, soldier, merchant, practical economist as well as social critic he came to power in revolutionary times with a mission to put an end to the cycles of retaliatory violence that had plagued Greece for centuries. Athens wanted peace and order, and turned to the man who had communicated his vision of social order and the need for justice through his poetry.
Amidst that first crisis in 458 B.C. Aeschylus produced the Orenstein, the greatest tragic drama in human history. It is a window into the evolution of Athenian justice, the principles underlying its law, and the threats to justice inherent in human passions. The play is a transcendental plea. for democratic justice. The third part of the trilogyIts final act portraysis a courtroom trial in which the mental state of the defendant is central with all the elements of what today we call legal insanity.
Justice Oliver Wendell 1881 in the common law 46 wrote: It may be said, not only that the law does, but that it ought to, make the gratification of revenge an object. …The first requirement of a sound body of law is that it should correspond with the actual feelings and demands of the community, whether right or wrong. If people would gratify the passion of revenge outside of the law, if the law did not help them, the law has no choice but to satisfy the craving itself, and thus avoid the greater evil of private retribution.” The circle completes, from Athens to Rome to London to Washington. But this leaves us approaching the year 2000, a some mere 5400 years from Johan Weyer, and 150 from Isaac Ray, still emerging from the Dark Ages, technologically enlightened, but with justice just partially tamed.
380 BC Plato in his book Politeia (meaning city state governance) is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato. In Plato’s fictional dialogues and character of Socrates as well as various Athenians and Foreigners discuss the meaning of Justice, and examine whether the Just man is happier than the un Just man by the imagining the society ruled by Philosophers, kings and guardians.
20th century The distinction between feasibility and desirability studies helps us to see what happened in the 20th century which explains berlins harsh judgement on the state of things in 1962.

A brief sketch of Rawls life

Rawls Timeline

1921 (Feb 21): Born in Baltimore, MD, USA, to William Lee Rawls
1939: Graduates from Kent School, a renowned preparatory school
1943: Completes B. A. at Princeton University (Princeton, NJ, USA)
1949: Marries Margaret Fox
1950: Receives Ph. D. from Princeton
1950-1952: Is an instructor at Princeton
1952-1953: Receives a Fulbright Fellowship to Oxford University (Oxford, UK)
mid to late 1950’s: Serves as an assistant and associate professor at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY, USA)
1962: Becomes full professor of philosophy at Cornell
1970-1972: Serves as President of the American Association of Political and Social Philosophers
1971: Writes A Theory of Justice, his most famous work
1974: Serves as President of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association
1979: Becomes James Bryant Conant Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, USA)
1980’s-1990’s: Is very philosophically active among intellectual circles and in teaching philosophy at Harvard
John (Jack) Bordley Rawls was born on February 21, 1921 in Baltimore as the second of five sons of William lee (1883-1946) and Anna Abell Rawls His maternal grandparents came from affluent families residing in exclusive Greenspring valleys near Baltimore. Both had inherited some wealth consisting mainly of coal and oil holdings in Pennsylvania. The grandparent Alexander Hamilton Stump, lost most of these inheritances however, and the grandparents were eventually divorced. They had four daughters, one of whom was married to man name Rawls.

Rawls family hails from the south, and the Rawls name still rather frequent there. Rawls paternal grandfather, William Stowe Rawls, was a banker in Greenville, a small town in North Carolina. In 1896 he moved with his family to Baltimore, suffering from tuberculosis, he wanted to live near Johns Hopkins University Hospital. Some years after the move, Rawls father also contracted tuberculosis, and his health continue to be poor throughout his adult life. He never went to college and started working as a young age as a runner for a law firm. This gave him the opportunity to use the firms’ law books in the evenings and thereby to educate himself to the point of passing the bar exam without any formal studies. He went on to became a successful and respected corporate lawyer in the Marbury law firm- one of the best in Baltimore, its fame inaugurated by the important 1803 case Marbury v. Madison. In the earlier years after his bar exam, he also occasionally taught law at the Baltimore law school.

Jack’s parents both took a strong interest in politics. His father supported Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations and also was a close friend and unofficial advisor of Albert Ritchie, the democratic governor of Maryland (1924-36). Ritchie even ask him to run US senate—a proposal he declined for health reason. He was a firm supporter of the new deal as well, but his respect to Franklin D. Roosevelt abruptly with the court packing crisis of 1937, when Roosevelt attempted to break the Supreme Court’s resistance against his new deal legislation through expanding the court by six new judges to be appointed by him. Jack’s mother— a highly intelligent woman, who excelled both in bridge and portrait painting she was also for some time president of the Baltimore chapter of the newly founded league of women’s voters. In 1940, she works for the campaign of Wendell Willkie, who had quit the Democratic Party to run against the Roosevelt as a republican. White Jack was rather distant from his father, whom he remembers as somewhat cold and aloof from the family, he was very close to his mother and traces his lifelong interest in the equality of women to her influence as well as of his wife and daughters.

He losses two of his younger brother when he was a child, they died of diseases contracted from Jack, first of the incidence was occurred in 1928, when jack fell gravely ill. Although Robert lee 21 months younger had been sternly told not to enters Jack’s room, he did so any way a few times to keep jacks company. Soon both children were lying in bed with high fever. Because the family physician, a relative, initially misdiagnosed the disease, a long time passed until it was finally discovered that they were suffering from diphtheria. The correct diagnosis and antitoxin came too late to save booby. His death was a severe shock to jack and may have (as their mother thought) triggered his stammer, which has been serious, though gradually receding, and handicap for him ever since that time.

Jack recovered from the diphtheria, but very next winter caught a severe pneumonia, which soon infected his brother Thomas Hamilton (Tommy, born September 1927). The tragedy of the previous year repeated itself. While jack was recovering slowly, his little brother died in February of 1929.

Academic career

Rawls’s taught the following two Years (1950-52) as an instructor in the Princeton Philosophy Department. Despite his teaching obligations, Rawls continued his studies outside the philosophy. The year in oxford was the philosophically most important for Rawl’s since 1941-42 his first year as a philosophy student under the influence of Malcolm) through Urmson he got to know Oxford’s most important philosophers. He attended a lecture course by H.L.A. Hart who freshly promoted to a professorship, was expounding some of the ideas he would later publish in the concept of law. Rawls was especially impressed with a seminar, taught by Berlin and Hampshire, with Hart’s active participation, in the winter of 1953, which covered Condorcet, Rousseau’s Social Contract, John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” Alexander Herzen, G.E. Moore, and two essays by John Manyard Keynes. Rawls continued to think of this seminar as an exemplar of excellent teaching that he should seek to emulate.

During the period, Rawls began developing the idea of justifying substantive moral principles by reference to an appropriately constructed deliberative procedure. He believes that the inspiration for this idea may have come from an essay by frank knight which mentions the organisation of a reasonable communicative situation (‘Economic Theory and Nationalism” in The Ethics of Competition and other essays, London. Rawls initial idea was that the participants should deliberate independently of one another and should forward their proposals for moral principles to an umpire. This process was to continue until agreement would be achieved. As with later version of the original position, Rawls was hoping that he could from an exact and elaborately justified specification of the initial situation and its rules, derive substantive results hypothetically, i.e. without implementing the procedure with actual participants.

After his return from oxford (1953) Rawls accepted an assistant professorship at Cornell University, where he was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 1956. In the 1950’s, Cornell had a rather attractive philosophy department whose character was shaped by Malcolm and Black. Among his other colleagues were Rogers Albritton and David Sachs, who had been Rawls fellow student at Princeton. The department published (as it still does today) a highly acclaimed journal, the philosophical review, and Rawls became one of the editors. Rawls proceeded to teach in Harvard Philosophy Department from 1962 until his retirement in 1991.

Making of Theory of Justice:

During 1962-71 he devoted mainly to the completion of A Theory of Justice Rawls sought to combine the work on his book with his teaching duties as much as possible. Some of his courses were based, in part, on drafts of the book, which were sometimes distributed to the students. Rawls also used his courses for study of the great historical figures of political philosophy, beginning in his year at Harvard with a course on Kant and Hegel for which he composed an extensive lecture script on Hegel’s philosophy.

Rawls use to teach political philosophy in Harvard University he also used his course to for the study of great historical figures of political philosophy, beginning with his first year at Harvard with a course on Kant and Hegel for which he composed an extensive lecture script on Hegel’s philosophy.

Politically the late 1960s was dominated by the Vietnam War. From the very beginning Rawls believe was this war to be unjust and repeatedly defended his assessment in public like Washington anti war conference in May 1967 he also taught course on “Problems of War” in which he discussed various positions on ius ad bellum and ius in bello in reference to Vietnam war. (The last quarter of his course was canceled due to general strike of the Harvard student body.)

Rawls was deeply concerned to understand what flaws in his society might account his prosecuting a plainly unjust war with such cruelty and what citizens might do to oppose this war. In regard to the first question, he sees the main problem in the fact that wealth is very unevenly distributed and also easily converted into political influence. US political process is structured so as to allow wealthy individuals and corporations (notably including those in the defence industry) to dominate the political competition through their contribution to political parties and organisations. “Those similarly endowed and motivated should have roughly the same chance of attaining positions of political authority irrespective of their economic and social class historically one of the main defects of the constitutional government has been the failure to ensure the fair value of the political liberties. … Disparities in property and wealth that far exceed what is compatible with political equality have generally been tolerated by the legal system”. This critique is much expanded in latter essay, “the Basic Liberties and their Priority” which also severely reproaches the Supreme Court for blocking campaign reform legislation in Buckley v. Valeo.

In regard to second question Rawls deems it important to foster a public culture where civil disobedience and conscientious refusal are understood and respected discussion, Rawls offers a very brief account of international ethics which is much elaborated in his book The Law of Peoples.

It was second question that confronted Rawls most immediately. Many young people were unwilling to perform their military service, which was compulsory for men up to the age of 26. The department of defence decided not to conscript students in good standing, there by giving professors an unusual power and responsibility; one failing grade could cause a student to be called up. Rawls thought that these “2-S deferments” for students were unjust, quite apart from the injustice of the war itself. Why students should be treated better than others – especially when rich parents have a significant advantage in securing a place for their sons at one educational institution or another? If young men needed, then the requisite number should be selected by lot. With seven colleagues from then philosophy Department – Rawls spent academic year 1969- 1970 at the Centre for Advanced Study at Stanford University so finally o complete his great Theory of Justice. He arrived there with a typescript of about 200 pages single – spaced pages, which he was continuously revising through additions and substitutions the revised part was were retyped by a secretary, Anna Tower, and so the typescript grew and proliferated in a way that was hard to survey. We can imagine, a mere 30 years later, how people wrote books without computers? It is easier for us electronic folk to imagine the sudden loss of a book in progress. This is what almost happened to Rawls toward the end of his Stanford year. In early April the centre’s director called him around 6 am with the terrible news that a few incendiary bombs had been exploded in centre overnight, concluding “You have been wiped out.” Rawls had felt the latest version was the initial one of the summer of in September of 1970, Rawls returned to Harvard and became chairman of its philosophy department. This sought and time consuming job was made even harder by the political circumstances. The members of the department had quite diverse views on the war and on the issues it raised within the university. Putnam, for instance, was a member of the Maoist progressive Labor party, while Quine and Goodman held conservative views. -These intradepartmental differences- though dealt with in a polite and civilised manner- required extra time and energy from Rawls. Since he also had to take care of his courses, he had to use evenings and nights for the final polishing of the typescript.

Rawls remembers this academic year as the hardest of his career. But at its end he had a text that he was satisfied with. Since the typescript was full of insertions, he had no idea of its true length and was amazed when Harvard University Press sent him 587 pages of proof for corrections and indexing. Rawls prepared the index himself, and the long and widely anticipated book appeared in the US in late 1971.

All his life, Rawls has been interested in the question whether and to what extent human life is redeemable – whether it is possible for human beings, individually and collectively, to live so that their lives are worth living. (Or Kant’s words, so that there is value in human beings’ living on earth). This question is closely related to that of evil in human character are above reproach may seem to lack worth. So much human time and energy are wasted on professional and personal projects that are ultimately pointless, and do not really promote human excellence and flourishing. In light of such thoughts, Rawls has tried to lead a worthwhile life in part by trying to show what might make human life worthwhile.

He has focused these contributions to the political plane is it possible to envision a social order under which the collective life of human beings would be worthwhile? One can imagine all sorts of things, of course. To be significant, the question must be understood in a realistic sense that is within the context of the empirical circumstances of this world and for our human nature. The question is then whether we can envision a realistic utopia, an ideal social order that is reachable from the present on a credible path of transition and, once reached, could sustain itself in the world as it is. By constructing such a realistic utopia, Rawls has sought to show that the world is good at least in this respect of making a worthwhile collective life of human beings possible.

Now one might think that our estimation of the goodness of the world should not be affected by a merely theoretical demonstration of social order that would be just actual collective life. Against this Rawls would certainly not maintain that the actual political achievement of justice is irrelevant, but he does hold we are reasonably confident that a self-sustaining and just social order that would be just and stable, even reachable from where we are reasonably confident that a self-sustaining and just social order among human beings is realistically possible, we can hope that we or others will someday, somewhere, achieve it and can then also work towards this achievement. By modelling a fairly realistic utopia as a final moral goal for our collective life. Political philosophy can provide an inspiration that can banish the dangers of registration and cynicism and can enhance the value of our lives even today.
Conceptual Understanding of Rawls Theory of Justice

Rawls argues that self-interested rational persons behind the veil of ignorance would choose two general principles of justice to structure society in the real world:

Principle of Equal Liberty
The first principle of Rawlsian Justice the Equal Liberty principle gives priority to securing basic liberal freedoms: freedom of thought, conscience, speech, assembly, universal suffrage, and freedom from arbitrary arrest and seizure, the right to hold public office and personal property. Conspicuously absent from these basic liberties are capitalist are capitalist market freedoms: to own commercial property, to appropriate what one has produced, to inherit or to pass on one’s possessions. The absence of these freedoms from the list of basic liberties is no oversight or inconsistency on Rawl’s part. Unlike the parties to Locke’s social contract, Rawlsian “contractors” must choose distributive principles without knowing their relative wealth or their social class. Unaware of whether they are capitalist or workers, they will care more about securing a decent life for themselves and their children than about protecting the profits of property owners. Each person has an equal right to the most extensive liberties compatible with similar liberties for all. (Egalitarian)


Difference Principle Wealth

The second principle of Rawlsian Justice has two parts. First (and most famous) part- the “difference principle” –justifies only those social and economic inequalities that maximize benefits to the least advantaged citizens. The second part requires “Fair equality of opportunity” for all, equalizing not only job opportunities but life chances. People with “similar abilities and skills should have similar life chances…. irrespective of the income class into which they are born.”

Social and economic inequalities should be arranged so that they are both

(a) To the greatest benefit of the least advantaged persons, and

(b) Attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of equality of opportunity.

The principle of equal opportunity provides that all public offices and employment positions be made available to everyone. Society should strive to offer all of its members an equal opportunity to fill positions through the elimination of differences caused by accidents of birth or social condition. Natural differences should be used for the benefit of all.

The basis for the first principles is that an equal share is the most that any person could reasonably expect considering the requirement for unanimous agreement in the original position. The second principle recognises that a rational, impartial person would make an exception to the first principle and accept less than an equal share if everyone would be better off as a result of the inequality. Rawls concern for the least advantaged is due to maximum, which is a rule of rational choice drawn from game theory according to which it is rational to maximize the minimum outcome when choosing of a person behind the veil of ignorance. One might use the principle of maxim in average utility and assume some risk to increase his or her chances of becoming better off. Whether Rawls theory of justice is superior to utilitarianism depends therefore on the acceptability of maxim in as rule of rational choice.

Is egalitarian, since it distributes extensive liberties equally to all persons.
(2b) is also quite egalitarian, since it distributes opportunities to be considered for offices and positions in an equal manner.

(2a) is not egalitarian but makes benefit for some (those with greater talents, training, etc.) proportionate to their contribution toward benefiting the least advantaged persons.

Obviously echoes, without exactly duplicating, Libertarianism in its commitment to extensive liberties.
What does the Difference Principle mean? It means that society may undertake projects that require giving some persons more power, income, status, etc. than others, e.g., paying accountants and upper-level managers more than assembly-line operatives, provided that the following conditions are met:

The project will make life better off for the people who are now worst off, for example, by raising the living standards of everyone in the community and empowering the least advantaged persons to the extent consistent with their well-being, and (b) access to the privileged positions is not blocked by discrimination according to irrelevant criteria.

The Difference Principle has elements of other familiar ethical theories. The “socialist” idea (see Distributive Justice) that responsibilities or burdens should be distributed according to ability and benefits according to need is partly contained within the Difference Principle. We may reasonably assume that the “least advantaged” have the greatest needs and that those who receive special powers (hinted at under “social inequalities”) also have special responsibilities or burdens. However, the merit principle that the use of special skills should be rewarded is also included in the Difference Principle.

What does not permit is a change in social and an economic institution that makes life better for those who are already well off but does nothing for those who are already disadvantaged, or makes their life worse.

Example: policies that permit nuclear power plants which degrade the environment for nearby family farmers but provide jobs for already well-paid professionals who come in from the big cities.

Rawls and Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is a moral theory that distributes benefits and burdens in a society based on the goal of maximizing utility, defined as the satisfaction of desire.

John Rawls has developed a competing moral theory called Justice as Fairness, which yields significantly different insights into the proper structure of society than does Utilitarianism.

Rawls critique to Utilitarianism

How Utilitarianism views the distribution of resources in a society?
How the distinction between persons is treated? and
Rawls argues in each case that Utilitarianism violated common sense notion of justice

Distributive justice has to do with how the benefits and burdens of society are “spread” among its citizens. Consider the following simple distributions for a society as they bear on two groups that compose a society.

Here is Rawls argument:

According to utilitarianism, if distribution of benefits and burdens in one scheme has greater total aggregate utility than another scheme, then the former is better than the latter.
However, it is not the case that every scheme of distribution that has greater total aggregate utility is better than a less one-since the latter can be fairer.
Hence, utilitarianism is false.
Rawls writes

Thus there is no reason in principle why the greater gains of some should not compensate for the lesser losses of others; or more importantly, why the violation of the liberty of few might not be made right by the greater good shared by many.

One way of seeing the problem with utilitarianism is by recognising that it does not take seriously the “distinction between persons”. Rawls writes,

This view of social cooperation is the consequence of extending to society the principle of choice for one man, through the imaginative acts of the impartial sympathetic spectator. Utilitarianism does not take seriously the distinction between persons.

Egalitarian theory of Justice embodies the Kantian conception of equality and offers an alternative to utilitarianism. Rawl’s theory of justice focuses on social justice, which he regards as a feature of a well-ordered society. In such a society, free and equal person are able to pursue their interest in harmony because of institutions that assign rights and duties and distribute the benefits and burdens of mutual cooperation. Rawls aim is not to develop the institutions of a well-ordered society but to determine the principles that would be used to evaluate the possibilities. And his method is to ask what principles a rationally self-interested person might to if he or she were to choose these principles in an original position behind a veil of ignorance. The original position is a hypothetical pre-contract situation similar to the state of nature in Locke’s theory. The veil of ignorance requires that individuals choose the principles of justice without knowing any facts about their situation in life, such as social status, natural ability intelligence, strength, race and sex.

A Theory of Justice tackles many things. But it’s fair to say that it has one dominant theme. It is an alternative to utilitarianism. The project is motivated by objections to utilitarianism and utilitarianism is the view that receives the most scrutiny by far.

The problem with utilitarianism is its tenuous connection with liberalism. This comes up most prominent in cases where the aggregate good of many people outweighs the good of a few individuals. In these cases, utilitarian’s seem committed to favouring the majority over the minority, even if doing so seems unfair or in violation of their basic rights and liberties.

The utilitarian retort should be obvious from Bentham. “Unfair? Basic rights and liberties? What are those, mere holdovers from outdated and pernicious moral conventions. After all, why prohibit a society from producing as much good as it can? Isn’t it better to have more good rather than less?

It’s that kind of argument that Rawls was concerned to rebut. Why does it make sense to depart from utilitarianism? In particular, can we give a theoretically sophisticated alternative that is as rigorous and comprehensive as utilitarianism is while not having its undesirable moral consequences?

Rawls’s informal arguments come in the first part. He points out the conflicts between utilitarianism and most people’s beliefs about justice and fairness. He also offers an unflattering diagnosis of the appeal of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is appealing because it takes over the model of making decisions that individuals would make concerning their own lives. The problem with applying this model to a society is that those who suffer from sacrifices do not always reap the rewards. Those often go to someone else.

The official argument is that the parties in the original position would prefer Rawls’s two principles to utilitarianism. It turns on a choice between two rules for making decisions under uncertainty: maximize expected utility or maximum.

The rule of maximizing expected utility tells the parties to do the following:

List the possible outcomes of each option. Options are what the parties are choosing among.
Note the value of each outcome.
Compute the probabilities of each outcome.
For each outcome, multiply the values in 2 by the probabilities in 3.
Add the results in 4 together.
Choose the option with the highest sum.
If that’s the rule they’re following, they will choose the option of maximizing average utilitarianism.

If the parties follow the “maxim” rule, they will choose the option with the best worst result. That is, they will do the following:

List the possible worst outcomes of each option.
Choose the one whose worst outcome is better than the others.
The psychological argument backs up the formal argument. It supports Rawls’s assertion that the parties in the original position would prefer his principles.

The idea of the psychological argument is that Rawls’s principles do not have the problem of the “strains of commitment” while utilitarianism does. Rawls maintains that people who grew up in a society governed by his principles would come to value the principles and try to comply with them. He is most concerned with those who are worst off. In a society governed by Rawls’s principles of justice, the worst off know that their society is committed to their being as well off as they possible can be. The same is not true of utilitarianism. Therefore, it is easier to feel allegiance to a society governed by Rawls’s principles than it is to feel allegiance to a society governed by utilitarianism. The parties in the original position know this and that gives them a reason to choose Rawls’s principles over utilitarianism.

Rawls and Social Contract Theory

The idea of the social contract goes back, in a recognizably modern form, to Thomas Hobbes; it was developed in different ways by John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant. After Kant the idea largely fell into disrepute until it was resurrected by John Rawls. It is now at the heart of the work of a number of moral and political philosophers. The basic idea seems simple: in some way, the agreement (or consent) of all individuals subject to collectively enforced social arrangements shows that those arrangements have some normative property (they are legitimate, just, obligating, etc.). Even this vague basic idea, though, is anything but simple, and even this abstract rendering is objectionable in many ways. To explicate the idea of the social contract we analyze contractual approaches into five variables:

1) The nature of the contractual act

(2) The parties to the act

(3) What the parties are agreeing to

(4) The reasoning that leads to the agreement

(5) What the agreement is supposed to show.

Social contract theory is one of the most popular models developed to evaluate political structures and acts. It tries to uncover the conditions under which an individual has a moral obligation to obey a political authority (other than herself). Thus conceived, social contract theory is a normative political theory that prescribes what a political authority has to look like if we are to regard the authority it exercises’ over its subjects, i.e. the particular actions it performs vis-a-vis its subjects, as legitimate. In other (more formal) words, social contract theory must be regarded as a device used to point out what assumptions underlying a legitimate ruler-ruled relationship are. Social contract theory, then, is ultimately an enquiry into the moral foundations of political authority.

In its quest for the moral foundations of political authority, social contract theory works from the intuitive idea of agreement. The appeal of this notion stems from the fundamental idea that structures of social cooperation ought to be based on the individuals’ consent and ought to work to their mutual advantage. Social contract theorist try to uncover the conditions under which mutually advantageous structures of social cooperation are possible, i.e. capable of generating consensus among all parties involved in the conclusion of the social contract (henceforth: contracting parties). According to social contract theorist, an important condition is that realisation of a mutually advantageous structure of social cooperation requires a political authority. Although the contracting parties by themselves are perfectly capable of concluding a social contract, i.e. capable of reaching unanimous agreement on a specific mutually advantageous structure of social cooperation, they cannot spontaneously act in accordance with the contract. For this a political authority is required to enforce the contracts terms.

Traditionally, all social contract theorists have assumed that this political authority should be a sovereign state. State sovereignty consists of two elements: internal and external sovereignty. Internal sovereignty refers to the states’ exclusive right to determine who gets what, when, how, and why in a specific territory. This involves the exclusive right to impose binding duties on subjects, to have subjects comply with these duties, and to use coercion to enforce the duties. External sovereignty refers to the recognition of the state’s internal sovereignty by other states.

Arguments Socrates

In the early Platonic dialogue, Crito, Socrates makes a compelling argument as to why he must stay in prison and accept the death penalty, rather than escape and go into exile in another Greek city. He personifies the Laws of Athens, and, speaking in their voice, explains that he has acquired an overwhelming obligation to obey the Laws because they have made his entire way of life, and even the fact of his very existence, possible. They made it possible for his mother and father to marry, and therefore to have legitimate children, including himself. Having been born, the city of Athens, through its laws, then required that his father care for and educate him. Socrates’ life and the way in which that life has flourished in Athens are each dependent upon the Laws. Importantly, however, this relationship between citizens and the Laws of the city are not coerced. Citizens, once they have grown up, and have seen how the city conducts itself, can choose whether to leave, taking their property with them, or stay. Staying implies an agreement to abide by the Laws and accept the punishments that they mete out. And, having made an agreement that is itself just, Socrates asserts that he must keep to this agreement that he has made and obey the Laws, in this case, by staying and accepting the death penalty. Importantly, the contract described by Socrates is an implicit one: it is implied by his choice to stay in Athens, even though he is free to leave.

In Plato’s most well-known dialogue, Republic, social contract theory is represented again, although this time less favourably. In Book II, Glaucon offers a candidate for an answer to the question “what is justice?” by representing a social contract explanation for the nature of justice. What men would most want is to be able to commit injustices against others without the fear of reprisal, and what they most want to avoid is being treated unjustly by others without being able to do injustice in return. Justice then, he says, is the conventional result of the laws and covenants that men make in order to avoid these extremes. Being unable to commit injustice with impunity (as those who wear the ring of Gyges would), and fearing becoming victims themselves, men decide that it is in their interests to submit themselves to the convention of justice. Socrates rejects this view, and most of the rest of the dialogue centers on showing that justice is worth having for its own sake, and that the just man is the happy man. So, from Socrates’ point of view, justice has a value that greatly exceeds the prudential value that Glaucon assigns to it.

These views, in the Crito and the Republic, might seem at first glance inconsistent: in the former dialogue Socrates uses a social contract type of argument to show why it is just for him to remain in prison, whereas in the latter he rejects social contract as the source of justice. These two views are, however, reconcilable. From Socrates’ point of view, a just man is one who will, among other things, recognize his obligation to the state by obeying its laws. The state is the morally and politically most fundamental entity, and as such deserves our highest allegiance and deepest respect. Just men know this and act accordingly. Justice, however, is more than simply obeying laws in exchange for others obeying them as well. Justice is the state of a well-regulated soul, and so the just man will also necessarily be the happy man. So, justice is more than the simple reciprocal obedience to law, as Glaucon suggests, but it does nonetheless include obedience to the state and the laws that sustain it. So in the end, although Plato is perhaps the first philosopher to offer a representation of the argument at the heart of social contract theory, Socrates ultimately rejects the idea that social contract is the original source of justice.

Then comes to Modern Social Contract Theorist

Thomas Hobbes: – Thomas Hobbes, 1588-1679, lived during the most crucial period of early modern English’s history: the English Civil war, waged from 1642-1648. To describe this conflict in the most general of terms, it was a clash between the king and his supporters, the Monarchist, who preferred the traditional authority of a monarch, and the Parliamentarians, most notably led by Oliver Cromwell, who demanded more power for the quasi-democratic institution of parliament. Hobbes represents a compromise between these two factions. On the one hand he rejects the theory of the Divine Rights of Kings, which is most eloquently expressed by Robert Filmer in his Partriarcha or the Natural Power of Kings, (although it would be left to John Locke to refute Filmer directly). Filmer’s view held that a king’s authority was invested in him (or presumably, her) by God, that such authority was absolute, and therefore that the basis of political obligation lay in our obligation to obey God absolutely. According to this view, then, political obligation is subsumed under religious obligation. On the other hand, Hobbes also rejects the early democratic view, taken up by the Parliamentarians, that power ought to be shared between Parliament and the King. In rejecting both these views, Hobbes occupies the ground of one is who both radical and conservative. He argues, radically for his times, that political authority and obligation are based on the individual self-interest of members of society who are understood to be equal to one another, with no single individual invested with any essential authority to rule over the rest, while at the same time maintaining the conservative position that the monarch, which he called the Sovereign, must be ceded absolute authority if society is to survive.
John Locke: – for Hobbes, the necessity of an absolute authority, in the form of Sovereign, followed from the utter brutality of the State of Nature. The State of Nature was completely intolerable, and so rational men would be willing to submit even to absolute authority in order to escape it. For John Locke, 1632-1704, the State of Nature is very different type of place, and so his argument concerning the social contract and the nature of men’s relationship to authority are consequently quite different. While Locke uses Hobbes’ methodological device of the State of Nature, as do virtually all social contract theorist, he uses it to quite different end. Locke’s arguments for social contract and for the right of citizens to revolt against their king were enormously influential on the democratic revolutions that followed, especially on Thomas Jefferson, and the founder of the United States.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: – Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778, lived and wrote during what was arguably the headiest period in the intellectual history of modern France–the Enlightenment. He was one of the bright lights of that intellectual movement, contributing articles to the Encyclopdie of Diderot, and participating in the salons in Paris, where the great intellectual questions of his day were pursued.
Rousseau has two distinct social contract theories. The first is found in his essay, Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men, commonly referred to as the Second Discourse, and is an account of the moral and political evolution of human beings over time, from a State of Nature to modern society. As such it contains his naturalized account of the social contract, which he sees as very problematic. The second is his normative or idealized theory of the social contract, and is meant to provide the means by which to alleviate the problems that modern society has created for us, as laid out in the Second Discourse.

Rousseau wrote his Second Discourse in response to an essay contest sponsored by the Academy of Dijon. (Rousseau had previously won the same essay contest with an earlier essay, commonly referred to as the First Discourse.) In it he describes the historical process by which man began in a State of Nature and over time ‘progressed’ into civil society. According to Rousseau, the State of Nature was a peaceful and quixotic time. People lived solitary, uncomplicated lives. Their few needs were easily satisfied by nature. Because of the abundance of nature and the small size of the population, competition was non-existent, and persons rarely even saw one another, much less had reason for conflict or fear. Moreover, these simple, morally pure persons were naturally endowed with the capacity for pity, and therefore were not inclined to bring harm to one another. As time passed, however, humanity faced certain changes. As the overall population increased, the means by which people could satisfy their needs had to change. People slowly began to live together in small families, and then in small communities. Divisions of labour were introduced, both within and between families, and discoveries and inventions made life easier, giving rise to leisure time. Such leisure time inevitably led people to make comparisons between themselves and others, resulting in public values, leading to shame and envy, pride and contempt. Most importantly however, according to Rousseau, was the invention of private property, which constituted the pivotal moment in humanity’s evolution out of a simple, pure state into one, characterized by greed, competition, vanity, inequality, and vice. For Rousseau the invention of property constitutes humanity’s ‘fall from grace’ out of the State of Nature.

Having introduced private property, initial conditions of inequality became more pronounced. Some have property and others are forced to work for them, and the development of social classes begins. Eventually, those who have property notice that it would be in their interests to create a government that would protect private property from those who do not have it but can see that they might be able to acquire it by force. So, government gets established, through a contract, which purports to guarantee equality and protection for all, even though its true purpose is to fossilize the very inequalities that private property has produced. In other words, the contract, which claims to be in the interests of everyone equally, is really in the interests of the few who have become stronger and richer as a result of the developments of private property. This is the naturalized social contract, which Rousseau views as responsible for the conflict and competition from which modern society suffers.

The normative social contract, argued for by Rousseau in The Social Contract (1762), is meant to respond to this sorry state of affairs and to remedy the social and moral ills that have been produced by the development of society. The distinction between history and justification, between the factual situation of mankind and how it ought to live together, is of the utmost importance to Rousseau. While we ought not to ignore history, nor ignore the causes of the problems we face, we must resolve those problems through our capacity to choose how we ought to live. Might never make right, despite how often it pretends that it can.

The Social Contract begins with the most oft-quoted line from Rousseau: “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains”. This claim is the conceptual bridge between the descriptive work of the Second Discourse, and the prescriptive work that is to come. Humans are essentially free, and were free in the State of Nature, but the ‘progress’ of civilization has substituted subservience to others for that freedom, through dependence, economic and social inequalities, and the extent to which we judge ourselves through comparisons with others. Since a return to the State of Nature is neither feasible nor desirable, the purpose of politics is to restore freedom to us, thereby reconciling who we truly and essentially are with how we live together. So, this is the fundamental philosophical problem that The Social Contract seeks to address: how can we be free and live together? Or, put another way, how can we live together without succumbing to the force and coercion of others? We can do so, Rousseau maintains, by submitting our individual, particular wills to the collective or general will, created through agreement with other free and equal persons. Like Hobbes and Locke before him, and in contrast to the ancient philosophers, all men are made by nature to be equals, therefore no one has a natural right to govern others, and therefore the only justified authority is the authority that is generated out of agreements or covenants.

The most basic covenant, the social pact, is the agreement to come together and form a people, a collectivity, which by definition is more than and different from a mere aggregation of individual interests and wills. This act, where individual persons become a people is “the real foundation of society”. Through the collective renunciation of the individual rights and freedom that one has in the State of Nature, and the transfer of these rights to the collective body, a new ‘person’, as it were, is formed. The sovereign is thus formed when free and equal persons come together and agree to create themselves anew as a single body, directed to the good of all considered together. So, just as individual wills are directed towards individual interests, the general will, once formed, is directed towards the common good, understood and agreed to collectively. Included in this version of the social contract is the idea of reciprocated duties: the sovereign is committed to the good of the individuals who constitute it, and each individual is likewise committed to the good of the whole. Given this, individuals cannot be given liberty to decide whether it is in their own interests to fulfil their duties to the sovereign, while at the same time being allowed to reap the benefits of citizenship. They must be made to conform themselves to the general will, they must be “forced to be free”.

For Rousseau, this implies an extremely strong and direct form of democracy. One cannot transfer one’s will to another, to do with as he or she sees fit, as one does in representative democracies. Rather, the general will depends on the coming together periodically of the entire democratic body, each and every citizen, to decide collectively, and with at least near unanimity, how to live together, i.e., what laws to enact. As it is constituted only by individual wills, these private, individual wills must assemble themselves regularly if the general will is to continue. One implication of this is that the strong form of democracy which is consistent with the general will is also only possible in relatively small states. The people must be able to identify with one another, and at least know who each other are. They cannot live in a large area, too spread out to come together regularly, and they cannot live in such different geographic circumstances as to be unable to be united under common laws. (Could the present-day U.S. satisfy Rousseau’s conception of democracy? It could not. ) Although the conditions for true democracy are stringent, they are also the only means by which we can, according to Rousseau, save ourselves, and regain the freedom to which we are naturally entitled.

Rousseau’s social contract theories together form a single, consistent view of our moral and political situation. We are endowed with freedom and equality by nature, but our nature has been corrupted by our contingent social history. We can overcome this corruption, however, by invoking our free will to reconstitute ourselves politically, along strongly democratic principles, which is good for us, both individually and collectively.

Original position and social contract doctrine

Why does Rawls represent principles of justice as originating in a kind of social contract? (Later we’ll consider the objection that the original position is not really social, but is the rational choice of one representative person.) Rawls says that “justice as fairness assigns a certain primacy to the social”. Unlike Kant’s categorical imperative procedure, the original position is designed to represent the predominantly social bases of justice. To say that justice is predominantly social does not mean that people do not have “natural” moral rights and duties outside society or in non-cooperative circumstances—Rawls clearly thinks there are certain human rights and natural duties that apply to all human beings as such. But whatever our natural or human rights and duties may be, they do not provide an adequate basis for ascertaining the rights and duties of justice that we owe one another as members of the same ongoing political society. It is in large part due to “the profoundly social nature of human relationships” that Rawls sees political and economic justice as grounded in social cooperation and its reciprocity. For this reason Rawls eschews the idea of a state of nature wherein pre-social but fully rational individuals agree to cooperative norms (as in Hobbesian views), or where pre-political persons with antecedent natural rights agree on the form of a political constitution (as in Locke). We are social beings in the sense that in the absence of society and social development we have but inchoate and unrealized capacities, including our capacities for rationality, morality, even language itself. As Rousseau says, outside society we are but “stupid, limited animals.” This undermines the main point of the idea of a state of nature, which is to distinguish what we bring to society from what we owe to society. Not being members of some society is not an option for us. In so far as we are rational and reasonable beings at all, we have developed as members of a society, within its social framework and institutions. The traditional idea of pre-social or even pre-political rational moral agents thus plays no role in Rawls’s account of justice and the social contract; for him the state of nature is an idea without moral significance. The original position is set forth largely as an alternative to the state of nature and is regarded by Rawls as the appropriate initial situation for a social contract. (Below we consider a further reason behind Rawls’s rejection of the state of nature: it does not adequately allow for impartial judgment and the equality of persons.)

Another way in which Rawls represents the “profoundly social” bases of principles of justice is by focusing on “the basic structure of society.” The “first subject of justice,” Rawls says, is principles that regulate the basic social institutions that constitute the basic structure of society. These basic institutions include the political constitution and framework for the legal system; the system of trials for adjudicating disputes; the norms of property, its transfer, contractual relations, etc. which are necessary for economic production, exchange, and consumption; and finally norms that define and regulate permissible forms of the family. It is the role of principles of justice to specify and assess the system of rules that constitute these basic institutions, and determine the fair distribution of rights, duties, opportunities, powers and positions of office to be realized within them. What makes these institutions and their arrangement the first subject for principles of social justice is that they are all necessary to social cooperation and moreover have such profound influences on our situations, aims, characters, and future prospects. No society could exist without certain rules of property, contract, and transfer of goods and resources, for they make economic production, trade, and consumption possible. Nor could a society long endure without some political mechanism for resolving disputes and making, revising, interpreting, and enforcing its economic and other cooperative norms; or without some form of the family, to reproduce, sustain, and nurture members of its future generations. This is what distinguishes the social institutions constituting the basic structure from other profoundly influential social institutions, such as religion; religion and other social institutions are not basic because they are not generally necessary to society and social cooperation (even if they may be ideologically necessary to sustain particular societies and to maintain their status quo).

Another reason Rawls regards the original position as the appropriate setting for a social contract is implicit in his stated aim in A Theory of Justice: it is to discover the most appropriate moral conception of justice for a democratic society wherein persons regard themselves as free and equal citizens. Here he assumes an ideal of citizens as “moral persons” who regard themselves as free and equal, have a conception of their rational good, and also have a sense of justice. “Moral persons” (an 18th century term) are not necessarily morally good persons, but instead are capable of being rational in that they have the capacities to form, revise and pursue a conception of the good; and also they are capable of being reasonable in that they have a moral capacity for a sense of justice—to understand, apply, and act upon principles of justice and their requirements. Because people have these capacities, we hold them responsible for their actions, and they are regarded as capable of pursuing their interests and engaging in social cooperation. Rawls’s idea is that, being reasonable and rational, persons (like us) who regard ourselves as free and equal should be in a position to accept as morally justifiable the principles of justice regulating our basic social institutions and individual conduct. Otherwise our conduct is coerced for reasons we cannot (reasonably or rationally) accept and we are not fundamentally free persons. Rawls thus starts from the intuitive idea that reasonable and rational persons who regard themselves as free and as equals ought to be able to freely accept the norms and constraints on their conduct. He then construes the moral point of view from which to decide moral principles of justice as a social contract in which (representatives of) free and equal persons are given the task of coming to an agreement on principles of justice that regulate their social and political relations. How otherwise should we represent the justification of principles of justice for free and equal persons who have different conceptions of their good, as well as different religious, philosophical, and moral views? There is no commonly accepted moral or religious authority or doctrine to which they could appeal in order to discover principles of justice that all could agree to and accept. Rawls contends that, since his aim is to discover a conception of justice appropriate for a democratic society that is justifiable to its free and equal citizens and which they can endorse and accept, the appropriate way to justify this conception is by (imagining) an agreement among free and equal persons themselves.

How is this social contract to be conceived? It is not to be regarded as an event that must actually take place at some point in history. It is rather a hypothetical situation designed to uncover the most reasonable principles of justice. Rawls maintains that the major advocates of social contract doctrine—Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant—all regarded the social contract, as a hypothetical event. Hobbes and Locke thus posited a hypothetical state of nature in which there is no political authority, and where people are regarded as rational and (for Locke) also reasonable. The purpose of this hypothetical social contract is to demonstrate what types of governments are politically legitimate, and to determine the nature of individuals’ political obligations. Their presumption is that if a government could or would be agreed to by all in an appropriately described pre-political situation, then it is generally acceptable to rational persons now (you and me) and is hence legitimate and subjects us to political obligations. (Thus Hobbes argues that all rational persons in a state of nature would agree to an absolute sovereign, while Locke comes to the opposite conclusion, contending that absolutism would be rejected in favour of constitutional monarchy.) Similarly, in Rousseau and Kant, the social contract is a way to reason about the General Will, or the laws that hypothetical moral agents would all agree promote the common good and realize the freedom and equality of citizens. Rawls employs the idea of a hypothetical social contract for more general purposes than his predecessors. He aims to provide principles of justice that can be applied to determine both the justice of political constitutions and their laws, as well as the justice of social and economic arrangements in the distribution of educational and work opportunities, powers and positions of office, and income and wealth.

It has been objected that hypothetical agreements cannot bind people; only actual contracts or agreements can impose obligations and commitments. In response, Rawls says that the OP is to be used “to help us work out what we now think”, “it incorporates conditions…we do in fact accept,” and is a kind of “thought experiment. For the purpose of public- and self-clarification” . Hypothetical agreement in the original position does not then bind anyone to duties or commitments he/she does not already have. Its point rather is to explicate the requirements of moral concepts of justice and enable us to draw the consequences of considered certain moral convictions that we all presumably share. Whether we in turn consciously accept or agree to these consequences and the principles and duties they implicate once brought to our awareness is irrelevant to their justification, for surely it can matter little to the justification of moral principles whether or not existing people actually do accept or agree to them. The point rather of conjecturing the outcome of a hypothetical agreement is that, assuming that the premises underlying the original position correctly represent our most deeply held considered moral convictions, then we are committed to endorsing the resulting principles and duties whether or not we actually accept or agree to them. Not to do so implies a failure to live up to the consequences of our own moral convictions about justice.

Critique on Theory of Justice

Libertarian Critique: – Chandran Kukathas & Philip Pettit, Rawls “A Theory of Justice” and its critics. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990. XI, 169

The above book on John Rawls’ theory suggests constructive criticism of his theory of justice, with a view to furthering the debate on its relevance and implications. This book responds to the libertarian and communitarian critiques of Rawls, their aims, and the audience, to which they are pitched, are otherwise quite different.

In Rawls “A Theory of Justice” and its critics, Kukathas and Pettit provide an introductory discussion of Rawls work an assessment of the importance of his contractarian argument, and an evaluation of his work since 1971. Liberals can be distinguished into classical liberals and modern liberals. Classical liberals of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century asserted that the only role of the state is to protect certain rights on the part of citizens: in particular rights of personal liberty and private property. Modern liberals, who appeared later in the nineteenth century, said that the state ought also to concern itself, even at some cost to liberty and property rights, with issues like poverty, lack of housing, ill-health, lack of education, and the like. Sometimes but not always they claimed that this concern flowed equally with the first form contemplating the demands of liberty, though liberty now understood in more than just the negative sense of freedom from interference.

Rawls is clearly a liberal, a liberal in the modern rather than the classical mould. It is no surprise then to find that one of the most important types of criticism to which Rawls theory has been subjected stems from the stable of classical liberalism. Nowadays classical liberals are known as libertarians and our concern in this chapter is with the libertarian critique of Rawls theory.

Libertarians agree in supporting, at most, a minimal state. Specifically, the night-watchman state of classical liberal theory, limited to the functions of protecting all its citizens against violence, theft, and fraud, and to the enforcement of contracts, and so on’. We say that at most they defend the minimal state, as some libertarians reject the state altogether. Our only interest is in those libertarians who support the minimal state and these divide into two board groups that the, pragmatic and the principled libertarians. Pragmatic libertarians defend the minimal state, not on the grounds that the rights which it protects are sacrosanct, but because a dispensation which restricts itself to the protection of such rights has certain other merits.

Rawls colleague at Harvard, Robert Nozick, published a defence of libertarian justice, Anarchy, State, and Utopia. The book begins with a statement which marks nicely the starting point of the principled libertarian,

Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights).

The rights which Nozick has in mind are the rights of personal liberty and private property which we mentioned earlier. The nearest he comes to giving a statement of them is in his account of the state of nature envisaged by th seventeenth-century English philosopher, John Locke; this condition is one where those rights, though they may be occasionally violated, are not at least systematically denied.

The Idea of Justice, by Amartya Sen (Harvard University Press)

“Justice, justice shalt thou pursue,” commands the book of Deuteronomy. But for American political philosophers, it is not so much justice as A Theory of Justice that is the object of pursuit. Since John Rawls published that seminal book in 1971, its ideas and language have exercised an extraordinary hold on the imagination of political thinkers. Justice by Michael J. Snadel and The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen- two books, coincidentally appearing at the same moment, by leading political philosophers, both of them professors at Harvard (as Rawls was). Justice is the more accessible work, based on Sandel’s popular introductory course in Harvard’s core curriculum, while The Idea of Justice is more ambitious, treating a range of theoretical and practical problems in political economy. Yet both books are, at heart, responses to and revisions of Rawls, and their titles deliberately allude to Rawls’s magnum opus. Just as the nineteenth-century critics of Hegel were still known as Young Hegelians, so these critics of Rawls are essentially post-Rawlsian.

The power of A Theory of Justice, which functions in Sen’s and Sandel’s books like the Freudian father who both must and must not be slain, comes from the way Rawls gave theoretical form to the core assumptions of late-twentieth-century left-liberalism. Rawls’s version of social contract theory is almost as well known by now as Hobbes’s and Locke’s. The only way for us to design a truly just society, Rawls argues, is to imagine ourselves behind a “veil of ignorance” that prevents us from knowing what our actual place in society will be—more, that blocks off our view of our own abilities, desires, and values. People negotiating in this “original position,” Rawls holds, will necessarily agree on two basic principles: first, that the liberty of every person will be inviolable; second, that economic disparities will only be allowed if they serve the advantage of the worst-off in society.

It’s not hard to see that these principles—especially the latter, known as the “difference principle”—offer a middle way between two earlier visions of the just society, both of which were largely discredited by Rawls’s time. Unlike the proponents of laissez-faire Manchester liberalism, Rawls recognizes no absolute right to property or to the fruits of one’s own labour. He places the needs of the community before the right of the individual and imagines the original position in such a way that even personal abilities are the gift of the community, which the community has the right to control. On the other hand, unlike Marxists, Rawls does not insist that a just society is one without inequalities. He recognizes that inequality of wealth and status might be the necessary, if undesirable, price of overall prosperity and even of liberty. What he offers instead bears a close resemblance to New Deal–style welfare capitalism, or social democracy: a system that permits competition but also restrains it, that rewards the rich but also cares for the poor. Since this comes close to most liberals’ present intuitions about how society should function, it’s no wonder that even Rawls’s critics find it hard to break entirely with his central ideas. Rather, Sandel and Sen Offer modifications that will, they believe, help us attain Rawlsian goals more effectively.

Sandel’s book is, in form, not a response to Rawls but a primer, aimed at readers who enjoy debating moral conundrums and current political issues but who are not familiar with the traditional vocabulary of political philosophy. Sandel’s favourite technique is to present the reader with a real-life dilemma, then show how our intuitive responses to it have been anticipated, and challenged, by thinkers like Mill, Kant, and Aristotle. “Political philosophy cannot resolve [our] disagreements once and for all,” Sandel writes. “But it can give shape to the arguments we have, and bring moral clarity to the alternatives we confront as democratic citizens.”

This is an appealing strategy, allowing Sandel to show how real, and unavoidable, philosophy’s apparently abstract thought experiments can be. Take the old classroom chestnut about the runaway trolley: should you allow it to kill five workers on the track, or divert it onto another track where it would kill only one person? There is something comfortably abstract about this problem—it invites leisurely debate, since we know that it couldn’t actually happen to us. But then Sandel turns to a real incident that took place in 2005. A Navy SEAL operating behind enemy lines in Afghanistan came across some unarmed goatherds: should he kill them, though they hadn’t done anything hostile, or let them go, and take the risk that they would warn the Taliban?

In a Hollywood movie, we know what the hero would do: he would be merciful and let the men live. And in fact, Sandel shows, Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell did let the goatherds go; then they alerted the Taliban, his unit was ambushed, and 19 American soldiers were killed. It makes a pretty convincing case for killing innocent civilians, and Luttrell himself now regrets his impulse to do what seemed like justice: “It was the stupidest, most southern-fried, lamebrained decision I ever made in my life.”

Sandel uses such ripped-from-the-headlines stories—Hurricane Katrina, the bank bailout, the Hopwood affirmative-action case—to introduce the reader to three major schools of thought about justice: the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill; the deontological, rights-based theories of Kant and Rawls; and finally the teleological ethics of Aristotle. Sandel is not neutral among these approaches, however: Justice has a dialectical form, in which the inadequacies of the first two schools are demonstrated so that we are inevitably led to prefer the third.

Sandel gives his least serious consideration to utilitarianism. He takes it as self-evident that American readers will reject any theory of justice that leaves no place for inalienable rights. Nor, despite his praise of Kant, does Sandel engage fully with the power of the categorical imperative. Instead, he focuses on the unpalatable, not to say absurd, conclusions to which it seems to lead, such as Kant’s famous dictum that one should not lie even to a murderer.

What really animates Justice, it becomes clear, is Sandel’s debate with Rawls, which has been the defining theme of his career. “In the 1980s,” he writes, “a decade after Rawls’s A Theory of Justice gave American liberalism its fullest philosophical expression, a number of critics (of which I was one) . . . argued that we can’t reason about justice by abstracting from our aims and attachments. They became known as the ‘communitarian’ critics of contemporary liberalism.” As this passage suggests, the major focus of Sandel’s critique of Rawls is the idea of the veil of ignorance. Does it make sense to demand, as Rawls does, that we lay aside our personhood—not just our station in life, but our very sense of values and morals—before we reason about justice? Is there, in fact, any person left after such a radical abstraction is made?

Sandel argues that there is not, because we are ineluctably entangled with our communities, our pasts, and our sense of the possible future. To demonstrate the point, he turns to the question of collective guilt and apology. Doesn’t “the relation of Germans to Jews, or of American whites to African Americans,” make clear that individuals can bear responsibility for crimes that they never personally committed? If we are ashamed of what our country does, or proud of it, we are tacitly admitting that we are “claimed by moral ties that we have not chosen and implicated in the narratives that shape our identity as moral agents.” The self, Sandel concludes, is thicker and less free than Rawls allows.

For all the noise that has been made about the communitarian challenge to liberalism, however, it is clear from Justice that Sandel’s vision of the just society is actually very close to Rawls’s. When Sandel dissents from Rawls, it is not because he rejects Rawls’s basic premises—justice as fairness, the priority of the collective to the individual, the validity of the difference principle. It is rather that Sandel believes these goals can be better achieved through a more emotional, patriotic, and even religious appeal, rather than through Rawls’s abstract liberalism. He approvingly quotes President Obama to the effect that “addressing problems such as ‘poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed’ would require ‘changes in hearts and a change in minds.’”

Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice is an original contribution to political philosophy, rather than, like Justice, an introduction to the subject. But Sen’s indebtedness to Rawls is, if anything, even more fundamental. The book covers a good deal of ground and touches on a number of Sen’s favourite themes—non-Western traditions of democracy, the importance of democracy in thwarting famine, and certain topics in economic theory. But the heart of the book is Sen’s proposed revisions to A Theory of Justice, to which he pays extravagant respect. “It may sound a little ‘over the top,’” he writes, but when he first read Rawls’s book, “I did think that I could grasp the feeling to which Wordsworth gave expression: ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, / But to be young was very heaven!’”

Even so, Sen Writes, “I now think that some of the main planks of the Rawlsian theory of justice are seriously defective.” One of these rotten planks is the idea that people can and should design any society in isolation, shut off from the rest of the world. Instead, Sen argues that we should adopt what Adam Smith called the perspective of the “impartial spectator”—trying to imagine how our ideas of justice might appear to people who don’t share our background, traditions, or language. What seems commonplace to an American might look quite barbaric to a European—for instance, the absence of universal health care; what seems natural in some parts of Africa—for instance, female circumcision—would be a violation of human rights elsewhere.

More important, because it goes to the very heart of the Rawlsian enterprise, is Sen’s argument that Rawls is mistaken to search for justice in terms of a single set of ideal institutions. Sen suggests, in terms reminiscent of Isaiah Berlin, that such “transcendental institutionalism” inevitably violates “the plurality of reasons for justice.” To use Sandel’s language, there are times when utilitarianism counsels one course of action, deontology another, teleology a third, so that it is impossible finally to decide that only one of these courses is truly just. This does not mean, Sen insists, that we must simply give up on seeking agreement about what is just and unjust. Rather, he writes, we should focus on “comparative assessments between pairs of alternatives”—that is, on deciding what is more and less just in any given situation. In the early nineteenth century, for instance, radicals and clergymen could agree that slavery should be abolished, though they could never have settled on the same definition of a just society.

What unites these two lines of criticism, and provides The Idea of Justice with its underlying coherence and force is Sen’s recognition of the real tension between liberalism and cosmopolitanism. Sen, a Nobel Prize–winning economist who was born in what is now Bangladesh and has taught in India, Britain, and the U.S., knows better than Rawls that not all of the world’s peoples would reason the same way in the original position—more, that the original position amputates the diversity that is an irreducible condition of the real world.

This does not lead Sen to despair, or to accept the notion, beloved of despots, that liberal democracy is a purely Western invention, with no relevance to “Asian values.” On the contrary, at many points he argues that liberalism can find a usable past in Eastern cultures as well as Western ones. One of his heroes is the sixteenth-century Mughal emperor Akbar, who decreed religious tolerance in India. But Sen’s global perspective allows him to see that the obstacles to Rawls’s just society are far more considerable than Rawls allows. Sen’s pluralism and incrementalism, like Sandel’s communitarianism, are intended to offer more robust means to Rawls’s liberal ends. Both books imply that it is where A Theory of Justice ends that the pursuit of justice actually begins.

Marxian critique: Rawls Models of Man and Society Rawls theory is presented in a fully integrated form, one naturally looks for enlightenment about features of his theory which had been puzzling, or which had seemed unsatisfactory, in their, partial versions. I shall confine my attention to two such features, which will take us to some of his basic assumptions about the nature of man and of human society. The first is the curious fact that a theory of enquiring what justifies an inequality of life prospects as between members of different social classes. The second in the uncertainty as to how far his well-ordered society requires a capitalist market system and a bourgeois model of man. How far has he read back, into he nature of society and of man, the Hobbes-to-Bentham model of each?

The central concern of A Theory of Justice remains the justification of unequal life prospects for members for members of different social classes. The reason for this is that these inequalities are ‘presumably inevitable in the basic structure of any society.

Left Criticism: Rawls an “unreconstructed Gladstonian liberal? Dose Rawls theory of justice sanction class-divided societies? Is Rawls an inegalitarian utilitarian, despite all appearances to the contrary? Dose Rawls defence of market arrangements entail support of bourgeois norms of distribution? Do Rawls’s principles of Justice stand in antagonistic relation to the value of community?

Feminist critique: while Okin’s feminist appropriation of Rawls’s theory of justice requires that principles of justice be applied directly to the family, Rawls seems to require only that the family be minimally just. Rawls’s recent proposal dulls the critical edge of liberalism by capitulating too much to those holding sexist doctrines. Okin’s proposal, however insufficiently flexible. An alternative account of the relation of the political and the non-political is offered by Jurgen Habermas.

In Relationship between Dr. Ambedkar’s Idea of Social Justice

Dr. Ambedkar and quest for Social Justice in the Constituent Assembly

Dr Ambedkar come closely associated with the drafting constitution for free India as a chairman of the drafting committee and as a member of the advisory committee on minorities and fundamental rights. As the unquestioned spokesman of the untouchables, Dr. Ambedkar kept in mind the interest of the scheduled castes while participating in the process of drafting the constitution.” In fact, he is quoted as saying, “I came into Constitution Assembly with no greater aspiration than to safeguard the interest of the scheduled castes.” But such statements should not be constructed to mean that Dr. Ambedkar was blind to the existence of numerous other disadvantage and exploited sections, and was not alive to other forms of social inequality needing immediate redressal. In fact, Dr. Ambedkar was a party to a general consensus in the constituent Assembly that the term ‘Backward Classes’ would cover three principles components, the scheduled Castes, the scheduled tribes and the other Backward Classes. And Dr. Ambedkar addressed himself to the task of securing Social Justice for all the backward classes in the country, under the mandate of the new constitution.

Ambedkar as the champion of the downtrodden was convinced beyond doubt as to the need of a bill of Rights in the Indian Constitution. He had been pleading continuously for an elaborate system of fundamental rights for the minorities in particular, and for all the citizens in general. His fight for Social Justice was also convinced that social justice could not be secured to one and all unless it was enshrined in the constitution itself.”

Ambedkar’s role in ensuring social justice for his brethren in British India would be in order. On May 29, 1928, Ambedkar submitted a statement before the Indian Statuary commission Simon commission on its arrival in India. In his statement concerning the safeguards for the protection of safeguards for the protection of the interest of the depressed classes as Minority in the Bombay presidency, and the changes in the composition, Ambedkar demanded protection through adequate representation for the depressed classes. He was into consideration population and social status to indicate the quantum of representation. Moreover it was responsibility of the government to ensure the spread of education, to make no discrimination in recruitment and to provide for adequate safeguards. In his words:

“It must be admitted that population is a measure by which we evaluate the representation that is to be granted to any community it must be however recognised that the strength of the community cant not be taken as a sole factor in determining matter of this sort. The standing of a community is no less an important factor to be taken into account in determining its quota of representation it follows from the recognition of the principle that the lower the standing of a community the greater is the electoral advantage it must get over the rest. There can be no two opinions that the standing of the Depressed classes, both educational and economical, is the lowest in this presidency.”

Therefore Dr. Ambedkar demanded

“That the education of the depressed classes shall be recognised as the first charge on the revenues of the province… That the right of the depressed classes to unrestricted recruitment in the army, navy and the police shall be recognised without any limitation as to caste. That for a period of 30 years, the right of the depressed classes for priority in the matter of recruitments to all posts, gazetted as well as non-gazetted, in all civil services, shall be recognised by the provincial government.”

And finally Dr.Ambedkar insisted on adequate safeguards: “Surely the first essential of any scheme of reform is that adequate safeguards should be provided for the good government of the inarticulate masses of the population.

Publications of Rawls’s

A Theory of Justice Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. The revised edition of 1999 incorporates changes that Rawls made for translated editions of A Theory of Justice. Some Rawls scholars use the abbreviation TJ to refer to this work.
Political Liberalism. The John Dewey Essays in Philosophy, 4. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. The hardback edition published in 1993 is not identical. The paperback adds a valuable new introduction and an essay titled “Reply to Habermas.” Some Rawls scholars use the abbreviation PL to refer to this work.
The Law of Peoples: with “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited.” Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999. This slim book includes two works; a further development of his essay entitled “The Law of Peoples” and another entitled “Public Reason Revisited”, both published earlier in his career.
Collected Papers. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999. This collection of shorter papers was edited by Samuel Freeman. Two of the papers in this collection, “The Law of Peoples” and “Public Reason Revisited,” are available separately in the Law of Peoples monograph published the same year. One other essay, “Reply to Habermas,” was added to the paperback edition of Political Liberalism. Otherwise, this collection is comprehensive. However, one important unpublished work, Rawls’s dissertation, is not included.
Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2000. This collection of lectures was edited by Barbara Herman. It has an introduction on modern moral philosophy from 1600–1800 and then lectures on Hume, Leibniz, Kant, and Hegel.
Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 2001. This shorter summary of the main arguments of Rawls’s political philosophy was edited by Erin Kelly. Many versions of this were circulated in typescript and much of the material was delivered by Rawls in lectures when he taught courses covering his own work at Harvard University.
Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007. Collection of lectures on Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Joseph Butler, J.J. Rousseau, David Hume, J.S. Mill, and Karl Marx, edited by Samuel Freeman.
References:

Books

Amartya Sen “Idea of Justice” (Harvard University Press 2009.
Chandran Kukathas & Philip Pettit, Rawls “A Theory of Justice” and its critics. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990
Robert Nozick, Advisor, A Garland Series Reading In Philosophy “The Philosophy of Rawls” (A Collection of Essays), Harvard University, Garland Publishing, Inc. New York London, 1999, Volume 1, Volume 3.
Articles

J STOR: Review: Can the Maximin Principle Serve as a Basis for Morality? A Critique of John Rawls’s Theory John C. Harsanyi. The American Political Science Review, Vol. 69, No. 2 (Jun., 1975), pp. 594-606 Published by: American Political Science Association
Hume and the (False) Luster of Justice, Sharon R. Krause Political Theory, Vol. 32, No. 5 (Oct., 2004), pp. 628-655 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
From Bodo Ethics to Distributive Justice, Russell Hardin, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Vol. 2, No. 4, Justice in Philosophy and Social Science (Dec., 1… more Published by: Springer
http://www.city-journal.org/2009/bc0911ak.html
David Robertson. The Routledge Dictionary of Politics, Europa Publications London and New York Pdf version.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “THEORY OF JUSTICE BY John Rawls

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s