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Rawls claims that ‘utilitarianism does not take the distinction between persons seriously.’ Explain this claim and why Rawls believes his theory is an improvement.

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Introduction

Rawls claims that 'utilitarianism does not take the distinction between persons seriously.' Explain this claim and why Rawls believes his theory is an improvement. Then discuss either (i) whether Rawls still does not take 'the distinction between persons' sufficiently seriously, as Nozick charges, or (ii) whether Rawls relies on a picture of human beings that is too individualistic to support a just community, as Sandel alleges. Rawls believes that his theory of justice 'justice as fairness' is an improvement of utilitarian theories because he claims that his theory considers all individuals, thus making the 'distinction between persons' and that the lack of consideration for individual rights in utilitarian theories is unjust; therefore he believes his theory is better. In this paper I shall try to examine Rawls' claim from a neutral perspective and assess both the arguments for and against utilitarianism with respect to its theories consideration (or indeed lack of) of individual rights. Firstly, we must look at the benefits of Rawls' own theory of justice and examine his claims of how a just society in his view would respect the rights of the individual. In the beginning of Rawls theory he conducts a thought experiment whereby an number of persons are to decide on the future of an already established society by creating a social contract that all citizens are to adhere to and that would ultimately create a just society, he calls this the 'original position'1. ...read more.

Middle

For example, if a group of people from one ethnic group were dominant in the society and to use forced labour of the other group maximised the utility of society after the calculation had been made, then the minority group would be exploited and justifiably so. In comparison a Rawlsian society adhering to the rules would never support forced labour as it is seen as a violation of ones basic liberty rights. Rawls here would have support in his argument from Kantian ethics as the utilitarian is seen as treating the minority as a mere means rather than as ends themselves8, again emphasising the lack of consideration for individual rights in the utilitarian theory. In the context of taking seriously the distinction between persons we can safely conclude that Rawls theory certainly is better than utilitarian theories, as it considers fairness for individuals. An alternative and critique to Rawls' contractarian liberalism is the libertarianist theory of Robert Nozick. Nozick claims that Rawls still does not take the distinction between persons sufficiently seriously because the welfare state etc infringes on individuals rights of property. Nozick also rejects utilitarianism and in particular hedonistic utilitarianism illustrated in his thought experiment of the pleasure inducing machine9. Nozick places particular emphasis on the rights of an individual to his or her property, thus concluding that distribution or redistribution is an infringement on human rights. ...read more.

Conclusion

is unfair to those who have naturally achieved. It is on this basis that he presumes that people would reject Rawls' social contract theory because "what self interested reason to agree to it would they have"? This criticism I feel is the strongest of Nozick's opposition to Rawls as it reflects the difficulty of people actually committing to the social contract. Also, In Nozick's defence I will point out that the most favourable element of his argument is that it accounts for both past injustices and past rewards, whereas the redistribution included in Rawls' theory does not take into account that people may have worked extremely hard throughout their lives to achieve what they have. Rawls does consider this after the social contract has been established and openly states that natural talents are arbitrary and promote healthy competition among peers and ambition in those who are worse off, and this I feel compensates for the lack of recognition he gives to it before the original position. In conclusion I would say that on the whole Rawls' theory takes into consideration the distinction between persons as he combines the utility of the society with the rights and liberties of its citizens and formulates a way in which people should live. Finally, I would like to add that I would much prefer to live in a Rawlsian society, than either of the others, though I might be compelled into thinking otherwise were I a King. ...read more.

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