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Rawls: Theory of Justice

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Introduction

In this essay I intend to give an account of Rawls' arguments for justice and fairness as outlined in his A Theory of Justice and demonstrate that, while noble in intentions his theory is somewhat problematic. Furthermore I plan to demonstrate why I don't necessarily agree that: "social and economic inequalities can only be justified if they are to the benefit of the least advantaged". Rawls Theory of Justice is an universalist system of justice. In the tradition of Kant, Locke and Rousseau it seeks to address the issues surrounding the social contract theory in an egalitarian manner in attempt to provide an answer to utilitarian approaches that have gone before from the likes of Jeremy Bentham and J. Stuart Mill. Inspired by David Hume he seeks to give an account of the circumstances of justice and endeavours to incorporate a Kantian style approach to morality. His theory is concerned primarily with distributive justice, thus seeking to design an approach that will provide a guide for the governing of the distribution of benefits and burdens inherent in society. His distributive theory is an outcome-based theory of justice, and measures justice according to how well it delivers in reducing inequality. It is thus an egalitarian theory to the problems of society. ...read more.

Middle

to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged and b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity. What it amounts to ultimately is that people don't necessarily deserve their talents, and are thus not morally relevant and thus it is quite acceptable to penalise or reapportion the result of 'luck'. I'm inclined to side with Nozick in that the maxim principle is neither reasonable nor just ultimately. It could only be applied, as he suggests, if primary goods fell "like manna from heaven"2however we know this is not the case in real life. Rawls' maximin prevents the more industrious in society from the full enjoyment of the fruits of their labour. He wants us to treat our fellow humans as means to an end. While I wouldn't go so far as to suggest, as a number of anarcho-capitalist's have argued over the years, that all taxation is theft and that the 'invisible-hand' can justly apportion scarce resources in all instances, it seems to me Rawls part a) of his difference principle undermines the very goal of his first principle of equal liberty. By calling on the state to control, and that any gains be redirected to the worst off, then it is not so hard to envisage a state of affairs whereby the society falls into sort of malaise. ...read more.

Conclusion

In Rawls defence he seems to acknowledge at least some of the problems that meritocrats and libertarians are likely to point out. The rebuttal to criticisms of his justice as fairness method of designing society would likely be from a position known as 'positive liberty' -which refers to ones ability and opportunity to exercise ones own potential and which society should provide for a minimum standard-and which was identified as distinct by Issiah Berlin in his essay "Two Concepts of Liberty"3 from the type of 'negative liberty' of which Nozick subscribes. The argument indeed has some merit. Having been critical of Rawls it is also hard to get a grasp of how a Nozick's system could ultimately work realistically without descending back into a Hobbesian "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" state of affairs. The lack of true resolve inherent between the various utopian systems of justice perhaps point to an over riding truth that there can never be any single and universal theory of "justice as fairness" that all people will find truly satisfactory. And that an amalgamation of laissez-fare capitalism, yet still providing of a financial safety net, and that doesn't unduly penalise someone according to race, sex or social standing should be the desired goal of any system that could claim to be truly fair and just. . ....... ...read more.

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