Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rawls and Justice As Fairness

**This is from guest blogger David, C.**

According to Rawls, the principles for a just society are what free and equal persons would agree upon under fair conditions. Rawls presented his theory of Justice as Fairness as following:
1. If there are some principles of which people, as free and equal rational beings, can come up and agree upon as the principles for a just society, then such principles should be the principles for justice.
2. The two principles of justice in The Theory of Justice are principles that people would agree on behind the veil of ignorance in the original position, where everyone are rationally bargaining as free and equal persons.
3. Therefore, the two principles of justice in Justice as Fairness should be the principles for justice.
Under this logic of his argument, Rawls mainly argues for the 2nd premise by presenting with great detail in his book on how these free and equal persons would bargain in the original position and arrive on the principle of basic liberty and the principle of Maximin and equal opportunities.

I find a lot of topic very interesting about Rawls’ Theory of Justice. But in this post, I want to focus on the following question: Since Rawls relies on the 1st premise, but doesn’t argue for it as he did for the second premise, I wonder whether the 1st premise might be rejected by other moral theories.
Utilitarian: utilitarian would probably reject Rawls’s 1st premise. For utilitarians, what people agree or disagree should not effect the moral justification of these principles, unless people’s consent can seriously affect people’s happiness. Indeed, I’m not sure whether utilitarians would even care about justice, they might only care about overall happiness (or maybe say that justice is whatever maximizes overall happiness). The fundamental difference between Rawls and Utilitarian seems to be that, utilitarian only cares about the aggregate happiness, while Rawls’s theory puts a heavy emphasis on individual rational beings as free and equal agents.
Kantian Ethics: I think Kant would probably agree with Rawls on the 1st premise. Indeed, Rawls talks about how his theory is a development of Kantian ethics. I also find the Original Position very similar to Kant’s idea of Kingdom of Ends. I think the biggest difference between Rawls’s theory and Kantian ethics is that, Rawls’s theory is restricted to modern democratic societies (as Rawls notes this himself), while Kantian ethics is committed to a transihistorical moral judgment.

I’m curious what you guys think about this.

1 comment:

Dan S said...

I'm not quite sure whether or not the utilitarian would reject the first premise. I almost would think that the utilitarian would have to accept the first premise. Here's my thinking. If every person is a free and equal rational being, and collectively they have formulated principles for a just society by which they will follow as principle of justice, then they have all entered into a social contract with each other. This social contract would demonstrate the will of the decisions from the majority. Since these people are free, equal, and rational beings, then they would accrue happiness from upholding these principles of justice. In the long run, it seems as though the principles of justice which are created will have already been formulated to maximize happiness and minimize suffering.