You are on page 1of 4


-John Locke: In a society where a government has not been formed, people use their logical reason;
individuals will understand that they have certain natural rights, like rights to live, rights to liberty, and
rights to acquire property. With the absence of the government, the society has to come together to
form a social contract, an agreement between the members of the society, to assure those rights.
-Question is, when we have all these people with different moral views coming together, how do we
assure that they will cooperate with one another to form an institution, where different perception
wont override one another? (, , )
-John Rawl then answers to those questions.

-Distributive justice is a concept that addresses the ownership of goods in a society. It assumes that
there is a large amount of fairness in the distribution of goods. Equal work should provide
individuals with an equal outcome in terms of goods acquired or the ability to acquire goods.
-Principles of distributive justice are therefore best thought of as providing moral guidance for the
political processes and structures that affect the distribution of economic benefits and burdens in
societies. JR provides an alternative distributive principle (the socially just distribution of goods in
a society) by utilising a variant of the familiar device of the social contract.
-The American political theorist JR begins his highly influential A Theory of Justice with the argument
that social arrangements in modernity require legitimacy (). Even if the arrangements of a
society were efficient and perfectly logically arranged, that society does not satisfactorily express
human aspirations () unless we can defend its institutions as just.

Basic Structure
-JR is concerned with the justice of the basic structure of the society, aka social justice. The basic
structure is the location of justice because these institutions distribute the main benefits and
burdens of social life: who will receive social recognition, who will have which basic rights, who will
have opportunities to get what kind of work, what the distribution of income and wealth will be, etc.
-Justice as fairness aims to describe a just arrangement of the major political and social institutions
of a liberal society: the political constitution, the legal system, the economy, the family, and so on.
-The form of a society's basic structure will have profound effects on the lives of citizens. The basic
structure will influence not only their life prospects, but more deeply their goals, their attitudes,
their relationships, and their characters. (In Capitalist society, the people are more aggressive as
they are business orientated, as opposed to Marxism where everyone is in the working class where
they only focus on their own work.)
-JRs claim is to provide a reasonable theory giving a basic set of principles with which we might achieve
consensus in the debate over justice. These principles allow for some inequalities and innovations in
the reasonable balancing of equality and efficiency. JR seeks impartiality (), but his search is
not for an intellectual Archimedean point which transcends the cave of our everyday life, rather it is
one dependent upon its finding acceptance with our everyday intuitions ().
Original Position
-JR's conceptions of citizens and society are quite abstract, some might think harmless. Hence,
the original position aims to move from these abstract conceptions to determinate principles of social
-The original position is a thought experiment: an imaginary situation in which each real citizen has a
representative, and all of these representatives form a social contract on which principles of
justice should order the political institutions of the real citizens. This thought experiment is
better than trying to get all real citizens actually to assemble in person to try to agree to principles of
justice for their society.
-The original position is a fair situation in which each representative wants only what free and equal
citizen want, and each tries to agree to principles for the basic structure while situated fairly with
respect to the other representatives.
-No one should be advantaged or disadvantaged by natural fortune or social circumstances in the choice
principles (Everybody has to be equal), thus models the ideas of freedom, equality and fairness.

Veil of Ignorance
-The original position is located behind the veil of ignorance, which prevents arbitrary (random) facts
about citizens from influencing the agreement among their representatives.
-The veil nullifies the effects of special contingencies which put men at odds and tempt them to
exploit social and natural circumstances to their own advantage.
-Each representative in the original position is therefore deprived of knowledge of the race, class, and
gender of the real citizen that they represent. In fact, the veil of ignorance deprives the parties of all
facts about citizens that are irrelevant to the choice of principles of justice (including age,
natural endowments and so on)
-Moreover the veil of ignorance also screens out specific information about what society is like
right now, so as to get a clearer view of the permanent features of a just social system.
-Behind the veil of ignorance, the informational situation of the original actor is as follows:
Parties do not know:
-The race, ethnicity, gender, age, income, wealth, natural endowments, comprehensive doctrine, etc.
of any of the citizens in society/ to which generation in history of the society these citizens belong.
-Political system, class structure, economic system, or level of economic development of the society.
Parties do know:
-Citizens in the society have different comprehensive doctrines and plans of life; that all citizens have
interests in more primary goods.
-Society is under conditions of moderate scarcity: there is enough to go around, but not enough for
everyone to get what they want;
-General facts and common sense about human social life; general conclusions of science (including
economics and psychology) that are uncontroversial.
-The veil of ignorance situates the representatives of free and equal citizens fairly with respect to one
another. No party can press for agreement on principles that will arbitrarily favour the particular
citizen they represent (no party is favoured), because no party knows the specific attributes of the
citizen they represent. The situation of the parties thus embodies reasonable conditions, within which
the parties can make a rational agreement. Each party tries to agree to principles that will be
best for the citizen they represent.
The Two Principles of Justice as Fairness
-JR believes that the original actor in the original position would choose 2 principles for guiding ideas of
justice as fairness. These principles primarily apply to the basic structure of society, to govern the
assignment of rights and duties & to regulate the distribution of social & economic advantages.
First Principle (Focus on equalities):
-Each person has the same indefeasible claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties, which
scheme is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all. (Everyone have the same basic liberty)
Second Principle (Focus on inequality):
-Social and economic inequalities (If there is inequality in equality) are to satisfy two conditions:
i. They are attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity;
As long as everyone has the same fair opportunity; it is okay for someone to take advantage.
ii. They are the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members of society.
Inequalities in the distribution of social primary goods must be justified by reference to the interests of
the least well off. Advantages particularly economy advantages are to everyone's benefits, aka
different principle.
-The difference principle holds that any such inequalities are justified only if, w/o inequality, the
disadvantage would receive even less than they do under the scheme that includes inequalities.
Eg, if everyone is given the same share, does the doctor get the same share? No, he is at the economic
advantage but it is also for everyones benefit where he can save life and cure illness. Under the
second principle, it is permissible.
-First principle > Second principle (i) > Second principle (ii)

Just Savings Principle

-Rawls includes a "just savings principle", as a means of insuring justice between generations:
-"Each generation must not only preserve the gains of culture and civilization, and maintain
intact those just institutions that have been established, but it must also put aside in each
period of time a suitable amount of real capital accumulation."
-JR claims that the correct savings principle is one the members of any generation (and so all
generations) would adopt as the principle they would want preceding generations to have
followed, no matter how far back in time.
-Another principle that Rawls believes must have a place among the selected is what he terms 'the just
savings principle'. Under this level of conservation and savings is to be adopted sufficient promote the
best interests of the worst off members of future generations to the greatest degree acceptable to the
worst off class of people of the existing generation.
-For example, the importance that was going to be increasingly attached to the need protect the
workings of the planet's eco-systems. The effect of the principle is that justice as fairness must
operate not only between individuals in any given society, but also between members of one
generation and those of generations that succeed it.
Rawls Analogy with Fair Ways of Cutting a Cake
-One cake is to be shared among several people with a person delegated to cut it. How will he do it?
-Let us suppose that the person cutting the cake knows he will get the last slice; if he is motivated by
self-interest, he will slice it so that whilst the rest may get equal slices, the last is the biggest. If he
does not like cake, he is likely to make the last slice the smallest. How are we able to guarantee that
each slice will be exactly the same?
-JR suggests the answer lies in the cake-cutter not knowing which slice he himself will get, in that case,
both type of cake-cutter will ensure each slice is similar.
-There are clearly important differences going on between the distribution of the cake of fixed size and
the justice in an on-going society. Moreover, the idea of cake lacks the degree of complexity which
the goods of life involve, like status, power, rights, money, property, etc. Thus, to concentrate only
upon primary goods provides a weak notion of equality for an ongoing society; flexibility must be built
into the theory.
-From that, those who help bake the cake can choose to enjoy free time or work on the cake. The cake
will vary in size and quality according to how many ingredients are put into it and the skill and hard
work which goes into baking it. But people must have an incentive () to provide ingredients and
work hard and skilfully; the quality and size of the cake will then vary according to the level of
-So the degree of inequality allowed in a distribution pattern may affect the quantity and quality of the
item for distribution; but Rawls believes he provides principles for a dynamic, yet socially just, growth
pattern by giving absolute priority to liberty. No rational person will risk his liberty for the sake of a
prosperity that only others may enjoy.

-Michael Sandel wrote Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, which criticized A Theory of Justice for
asking us to think about justice while divorced from the values and aspirations that define who we are
as persons, and which allow us to determine what justice is.
-Collectivists argue that Rawls has discovered the ground for the justification of the existing capitalist
system. He has shown that if the rich have the freedom to accumulate wealth, the poor would be
automatically benefitted. Even if his principle of fair equality of opportunity is strictly enforced, the
existing disparities between the rich and poor will not be substantially reduced. A slight improvement
in the condition of the most disadvantaged sections will be treated as an excuse to permit vast socio-
economic inequalities.
-Robert Paul Wolff wrote Understanding Rawls: A Critique and Reconstruction of A Theory of Justice,
which criticized Rawls from a Marxist perspective. Wolff argues in this work that Rawls' theory is an
apology for the status quo insofar as it constructs justice from existing practice and forecloses the
possibility that there may be problems of injustice embedded in capitalist social relations, private
property or the market economy.
-Rawls provide the principles of justice of the rational pessimist, but what of the gambler? Why should
not someone behind the veil of ignorance simply say Ill vote for a society with great inequalities
because I believe I stand a good chance of being one of the winners?