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Rawls’ Theory of Justice as Fairness

1. Introduction

The philosophy of justice is the study of the concepts of justice and fairness. In particular, it considers the extent to which our society is just and fair. The main focus of the philosophy of justice is on the principles of social and economic inequality, and on the ways in which these principles can be justified.

There are many different theories of justice, but one of the most influential is Rawls' theory of justice as fairness. Rawls' theory is based on the works of Kantian and utilitarian philosophers, and it attempts to combine the best features of both approaches.

Rawls' theory has been very influential, and it has had a major impact on political philosophy, economics, and even legal theory. In this essay, I will first describe the basic structure of Rawls' theory. I will then discuss the nature of justice, and explain how Rawls' theory can be used to justify social and economic inequality. Finally, I will briefly consider some objections to Rawls' theory.

2. The Basic Structure of Society

Rawls' theory is based on two key ideas: first, that there is a basic structure of society, and second, that justice is a matter of fairness.

The basic structure of society refers to the ways in which our society is organized. It includes institutions such as the government, the economy, and the legal system. The basic structure of society also includes social norms, such as the norm that people should obey the law.

According to Rawls, the basic structure of society should be just. This means that it should be organized in such a way that it treats everyone fairly. Rawls believes that there are two principles of justice that should govern the basic structure of society:

First, each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.
Second, social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both: (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone's advantage, and (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity. (Rawls 1971: 11)

These two principles are known as the "liberty principle" and the "difference principle". I will discuss each of these principles in turn.

3. The Nature of Justice

In order to understand Rawls' theory, it is important to first understand what he means by "justice". For Rawls, justice is not simply a matter of following rules or obeying laws. Rather, it is a matter of fairness: treating people equally regardless of their race, gender, or socioeconomic status.

This doesn't mean that everyone should be treated exactly the same way. Rather, it means that people should be treated according to their needs and merits. For example, it would not be just to treat a wealthy person and a poor person in exactly the same way: the wealthy person would not need the same level of assistance as the poor person.

Rawls believes that justice is the most important moral principle. He writes that "justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought" (Rawls 1971: 3). This means that a just society is one in which the basic structure is organized in a way that is fair to everyone.

4. The Principles of Justice

As I mentioned earlier, Rawls believes that there are two principles of justice that should govern the basic structure of society: the liberty principle and the difference principle.

The liberty principle states that each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others. This principle is based on the idea that everyone should be free to pursue their own goals and ambitions, without interference from others.

The difference principle states that social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both: (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone's advantage, and (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.

This principle is based on the idea that there should be some inequality in society, but it should be arranged in such a way that it benefits everyone, not just those at the top. Rawls believes that this principle strikes a balance between two competing values: efficiency and equality.

5. The Difference Principle

The difference principle has been criticized by many philosophers, but it remains an important part of Rawls' theory. In this section, I will discuss some of the objections to the principle, and explain why Rawls believes that it is still a valid part of his theory.

One objection to the difference principle is that it justifies inequality on the basis of utility. This means that people who are less fortunate are only given help because it is useful for those who are more fortunate. This objection misunderstands Rawls' view on utility. Rawls does not believe that utility should be the sole criterion for determining what is just. Rather, he believes that fairness should also be taken into account.

Another objection to the difference principle is that it fails to take into account people's different circumstances and abilities. Rawls has addressed this objection by introducing the concept of "fair equality of opportunity". This concept states that everyone should have an equal chance to develop their abilities and talents, regardless of their family background or socioeconomic status.

6. Conclusion

In conclusion, Rawls' theory of justice as fairness is a powerful and influential theory that has had a major impact on political philosophy, economics, and even legal theory. The theory is based on two key ideas: first, that there is a basic structure of society, and second, that justice is a matter of fairness. Rawls believes that there are two principles of justice that should govern the basic structure of society: the liberty principle and the difference principle. The difference principle has been criticized by many philosophers, but it remains an important part of Rawls' theory.

FAQ

The definition of justice is the quality of conforming to principles of reason, to generally accepted standards of right and wrong, and to the stated aims or purpose.

There are different types of justice, such as distributive justice, retributive justice, commutative justice, procedural justice, social justice, and restorative justice.

We can achieve justice in our society by having a fair and impartial legal system that treats everyone equally under the law.

It is important to study philosophy of justice because it helps us to critically examine our beliefs about what is just and unjust, and to develop reasoned arguments for why we believe what we do.

Some key figures in this field of philosophy include Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, and Rawls.

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