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John Rawls, in his work A Theory of Justice, considers how application of logic in justice system would save the society from common problems like designing societal systems, distributing social and economic advantages, and allotting duties to people in society among other issues. Rawls shares Immanuel Kant’s thoughts arguing that people should do unto others as they expect them to be done; the principle of nature.
Rawls uses what he calls ‘the Difference Principle’ and ‘the Principle of Equal Liberty’ to explain his theory; moreover, he expounds this principle by introducing what he calls, ‘the original position,’ and, ‘the veil of ignorance.’ If only people made justice decisions that would be ideal to them were they to be judged by the same decisions, then justice would be even for everyone.
Rawls’ Theories of Justice
Rawls starts by introducing the ‘original position.’ At the original position, the involved people would make pass judgment covered by a ‘veil of ignorance.’ According to Rawls, when people are in the ‘original position’, “no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does anyone know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like.
I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance.” 1 Therefore, at this position, the society would be void of things like talents, status or any other form of societal social distinction.
The aim of this ‘original position’ is to do away with prejudices or any other form of personal issues that pervert justice; it introduces neutrality, allowing people to pass judgment as if they were passing it to themselves. Simply put, the ‘original position’ calls for people to pass the kind of decisions that they would wish to get if they were in the position of the one facing justice.
Naturally, “people want the best things for themselves; therefore, they would come up with structures that are best for themselves and because they do not know where they would be in future, the overall judgment would be ‘best’ for them and ‘fair’ to everyone else.” 2 Veil of ignorance is the situation whereby, people ignore or assume theirs status in society and make judgments as if they were equal to everybody else.
‘The Principle of Equal Liberty’ states that, “each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive scheme of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for others.” 1 This is a classless principle calling for justice equality promoting mutual understanding; nevertheless, taken the way it is, this principle would confuse people on some issues and this is why Rawls compliments it with his second principle; the Difference Principle.’
The Difference Principle states that, “social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that; they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society, and offices and positions must be open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.” 1
Rawls divides this second principle into two parts. The first part pushes for distribution of, “economic and social disparities in a way that, they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society.” 1 This first part addresses the problems presented by the egalitarian nature of the first principle.
In this case, some people in society would enjoy some social status; however, this difference in class would be for the benefit of the less fortunate in the society. For instance, talented would be allowed to realize and practice their talents, which of course would give them some class in society.
Nevertheless, these talents should not be for personal gain but for the benefit of the less fortunate in the society. The second part of the Difference Principle states that, “economic and social disparities should be distributed in a way that, offices and positions must be open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.” 1
These disparities would exist under given considerations only if they benefit largely the least disadvantaged people in society. For instance, paying a manager millions of dollars a year would be allowed if these millions were to benefit the least disadvantaged in society.
Disparities are not the problem; the problem lies in the outcome of the disparities and if they are for personal gains then they are not allowed. “Rawls puts forward two conditions; one, these disparities would be allowed if their outcome have direct or indirect positive effects in empowering the least advantaged in society; two, as long as the procedure of accessing high posts in society is free and fair, void of irrelevant criteria and discrimination, then it is all right.” 2
Rawls theory is persuasive. Since time immemorial, justice ahs been littered with personal issues and prejudices making it unfair. For instance, those administering justice may do it harshly because after all, they are not subject to it. Considering Rawls principles, they advocate for equity and this is laudable.
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Majority of people in society today are least disadvantaged with few individuals enjoying most of economic and social advantages. If only people would do unto others the way they would expect to be done, then the world would be a better place to live in. unfortunately, the real situation is far from this with delayed or twisted justice taking precedence over fair or Rawls justice.
Considering the first principle, people would be equal and passing justice from the ‘original position’ would allow fair justice for all. The first bit of the second principle concerns itself with improving the livelihood of the least disadvantaged in society and this is praiseworthy.
The least disadvantaged people in the society have suffered all forms of injustices and this principle would act in the best interest of this group of poor individuals. The second bit of the second principle calls for equal opportunities in accessing offices and other life opportunities. For many years, people have been hired on basis of who knows whom in a given institution; this is unfair and Rawls’ principles would restore some ‘fairness’ in such situations.
By referring to the ‘original position’, Rawls intends to eliminate any form of bias that might stain justice administration. This original position would allow equitability in justice administration and since justice administrators make decision from behind a ‘veil of ignorance’, which covers personal issues or status, then justice made would be fair to everyone.
From the ‘original position’ acting from behind a ‘veil of ignorance’, “people would make judgments and decisions that are fair to everyone because these decision makers do not know where they would belong in future; therefore, they would pass judgments that are ‘best’ for themselves thus making the judgments fair to everyone.” 2
Rawls principles are persuasive for they would restore equitability in justice administration; promote the least advantaged and allow equal chances to accessing life opportunities like holding offices. Majority of people in society are disadvantaged and logically, they form the greatest number of justice consumers; therefore improving their livelihood would be tantamount to boosting happiness in the whole society.
1 Rawls J. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press; 1971.
2 Perry J, Bratman M, & Fisher M. Introduction to Philosophy: Classical And Contemporary Readings. New York; Oxford University Press; 2006.