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Rawls and Marx on Distributive Justice Essay


Justice is a complex term, especially when it comes to the application of the real attributes of justice in the society. The central issue when it comes to the real meaning and application of justice is whether justice can really be attained, considering the fact that interests of different parties play a critical role in determining the course of justice. The organization of the society in terms of needs and interests is something that comes up when trying to understand justice. This paper explores the views of Karl Marx and John Rawls on the concept of distributive justice. The paper argues that the difficulty in attaining justice in the society comes from the strife because of resources.

To begin with, it is quite important to understand distributive justice to gain insights into the views that are presented by Karl Marx and John Rawls about distributive justice. It is worth to assert that “…the subject of distributive justice touches on many areas, from jobs to income, from taxes to medical services” (Velasquez 558).

When examined from the outset, distributive justice comes from the structure and orientation of the society. The society is highly structured around the economic forces such that the economic forces are largely responsible for the course of social justice that is seen in the society. In other words, justice is largely a social issue because it is largely determined by the abilities and the needs of people in the society. Again, it is worth observing that these needs and abilities often revolve around the pattern of production in the society (Velasquez 567).

According to Velasquez (567), the society is social in nature and the wealth that is created in the society is supposed to be shared among all the members of the society. However, the real issue here is whether the resources that are produced in the society can be shared equally among the members of the society because of the nature and orientation of people in the society and the rules of ownership of resources. Based on the socialist view, the government is the key controller of the production systems in the society and all the resources that are produced are supposed to be shared equally by the government among all the members of the society (Velasquez 567).

However, this is rarely the case, especially when the society is looked at from the capitalistic view as opined by Karl Marx. Therefore, the concept of distributive justice is deeply entrenched in the works of Marx on the concept of order in the society. Based on the socialist view of distributive justice, Marx explained that, “In a just society, work burdens should be distributed according to people’s abilities and benefits should be distributed according to people’s needs” (Velasquez 567). This means that justice is something that comes out of shared interests of the members of the society.

Marx saw the society from a capitalistic view in which social order was breached such the order in which resources were supposed to be attained and distributed was altered because of the capitalistic order in which the rules that regard the sharing of resources were largely altered. Instances of inequality in the society come from the fact that the system of production and distribution of resources is shifted from capitalistic to a socialist one where the individuals in the society are denied the rights to own the means and the rights of controlling the means of production and resources (Velasquez 615).

According to Velasquez (615-616), justice can only be attained in the society when political equality and freedom are put into practice. This is evident in the assertion by Rawls that, “… justice requires freedom and merely political equality” (Velasquez 615). This is the view that is shared by Rawls with respect to the principle of free market operation within the political realms. The most critical thing that is evident here is how justice is lost when the society embraces capitalism, as opposed to the support for socialism. Rawls opined that, “… inequalities should be allowed only if the plight of the disadvantaged is relieved” (Velasquez 571). Here, Rawls supports the enforcement of social welfare programs to cater for the needs of the economically disadvantaged members of the society. To Rawls, economic inequalities are inherent in the society that embraces free markets as the means of production and distribution of resources.

Revisiting the concept of distributive justice, it is important to observe that the society is faced by the problem of a limit in the amount of resources available. Therefore, the struggle for resources is something that is unstoppable, given the fact that a vast number of people in the society cannot get access to resources that are necessary for sustaining their livelihoods, like food (Velasquez 558). Marx noted that capitalism as a social system in the society promotes the growth of the forces of domination in the society, the domination that cuts across all the realms of the society. Capitalism promotes private ownership of the society, a development that has resulted in the growth of a highly unjust system in the society because of the seeming domination of the society by the people who control resources through a capitalistic system of property ownership and distribution.

The other thing that points to the difficulty in attaining justice as opined by Marx is that capitalism promotes a certain form of antagonism between people who dominate the systems of production and people who are subjects of the few people who control production in the society. According to Velasquez (608), Marx was very categorical on the issue of domination in the society and the fact that the society has paved way for a system where the resources are concentrated in the hands of a very few people, who take advantage of the vast control of wealth to infringe on the rights of the wide population in the society.

From the liberal perspective, Rawls came up with two critical principles that define a just society. The first principle is that each person is at liberty to pursue a certain course. The second one is that even within the realms of economic inequality, equal opportunities are still presented to individuals and the disadvantaged people can still gain from the economic system (Velasquez 570-573). While Rawls seems to depict optimism about the attainment of justice, Marx seems pessimistic about the possibility of attaining justice in a society where domination is quite visible.

Distributive justice is something that comes out in the paper because it often revolves around the distribution of resources in the society. Rawls argues that justice can be attained even when the society is marked by attributes of inequality in terms of the control of production. On the other hand, Marx argues that justice cannot be attained when capitalism continues to take root in the society because it inhibits equality and the course of justice in the society.

Work Cited

Velasquez, Manuel G. Philosophy: A Text with Readings. Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2014. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, June 18). Rawls and Marx on Distributive Justice. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/rawls-and-marx-on-distributive-justice/

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"Rawls and Marx on Distributive Justice." IvyPanda, 18 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/rawls-and-marx-on-distributive-justice/.

1. IvyPanda. "Rawls and Marx on Distributive Justice." June 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/rawls-and-marx-on-distributive-justice/.


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IvyPanda. "Rawls and Marx on Distributive Justice." June 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/rawls-and-marx-on-distributive-justice/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Rawls and Marx on Distributive Justice." June 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/rawls-and-marx-on-distributive-justice/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Rawls and Marx on Distributive Justice'. 18 June.

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