Does justice require an egalitarian ethos?
There are two ways to respond to this question. First, the application of justice leads to the creation of an egalitarian society. Second, one can only achieve real justice after the different sectors of society are imbued with an egalitarian ethos. Thus, it is important to figure out the intended meaning of the question raised earlier. If the proponent of the study chooses the first route, then, he or she can argue that justice does not require an egalitarian character. According to Cohen, there is no need to create incentives or coercive measures to create an egalitarian society, because, in an ideal setting, people are driven to help those who are in need (Cohen 2000).
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Thus, the spirit of justice is enough to compel people to work harder and serve those who are in need (Beerbohm 2012). In other words, those who are in power can enforce certain rules and standards to establish a certain level of equality in the country (Cohen, 1992). If the government intends to achieve equality, certain measures must be implemented, because according to Cohen, there is a way to persuade people to adhere to the principles of equality.
With regards to the second part of the question, an egalitarian ethos is not needed to achieve justice, because the existence of an egalitarian ethos is not a critical ingredient in creating equality within the country. Equality is not the most important component when it comes to the administration of justice. According to Rawls and other respected economists, inequality is a powerful driver of positive change and economic stability, because the affluent members of society are compelled to contribute to social development.
Do “Rawlsian” have any convincing replies to Cohen’s objections?
Supporters of Rawls have at least two convincing replies to Cohen’s criticism that inequality is not the answer to the economic issues that plagued the country. First, “Rawlsian” will point out the historical evidence that some of the top workers and great innovators in human history were members of the privileged class (Smith, 2002). Second, “Rawlsian” will point out that Cohen does not have an acceptable and effective alternative to an unequal pay scheme. It is a strategy to induce talented people to give their best and work hard.
It has to be made clear that Cohen pointed out the weaknesses in Rawl’s argument when Rawls argued that in the long run, the presence of inequality will benefit the poverty-stricken members of society. Rawls said that the “principle of difference” acts as an incentive mechanism that will help spur economic growth and innovative solutions to present-day problems (Miller, 2015). Cohen said that the effective implementation of laws grounded in the principles of justice, as well as the appropriate information dissemination strategies, will persuade people to go beyond the call of duty.
Cohen’s arguments are nice platitudes, however, the records of human history do not support his claim (Kaufman, 2015). Rawls’ supporters will also say that the history of socialism and communism has nothing to offer, except failure and dictatorial governments. In other words, there is no way to encourage talented people to work harder without an incentive strategy that leads to inequality. It seems like common sense to say that if the wages are the same across the board, then, it will encourage laziness and lackluster performance.
Beerbohm, E 2012, In our name: the ethics of democracy. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
Cohen, G 1992, ‘Incentives, inequality, and community’, The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, vol. 13, no. 1, 263-329.
Cohen, G 2000, If you are egalitarian, then, why are you rich, Harvard College Press, Boston, MA.
Kaufman, A 2015, Distributive justice and access to advantage, Cambridge University Press, New York.
Miller, D. 2015. Social Equality. New York: Oxford University Press.
Smith, G 2002, Liberalism. Routledge, New York.