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Andrew Galloway Dr. Xinmin Zhu Philosophy 106 November 13, 2006 Term Paper Liberty, Equality, and Justice The conflict between liberty and justice is one that has plagued humans since at least as early as c. 1792-1750 BCE, when an Akkadian king, Hammurabi, recorded the now famous Law Code of Hammurabi, which detailed what liberties were to be sacrificed in order to maintain justice. To this day, the concept of true justice has been a leading debate in social philosophy. The implementation of justice as fairness, as I believe justice should be implemented, has its basis in Harvard philosopher John Rawls’ original position, a hypothetical state-of-nature much like that first introduced in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. Individuals in the original position do not exist in any sort of society and are under a “veil of ignorance” that prevents them from knowing of anything other than what they are currently aware of. This includes anything that could be used to discriminate between any two individuals, such as sex, race, nationality, or individual tastes. They would not know whether or not they were smart or dumb, rich or poor, or anything else regarding their prosperity and abilities. This is a situation comparable to the fictional tale of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were, in a sense, blind to the truth of things, held under a veil of

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blissful ignorance. Eventually, one of them was lured into “eating from the tree of knowledge,” thus lifting the “veil” and exposing them to the harsh realities of a state of nature in which natural law reigns, and a “war of all against all” takes place. In other words, those individuals in such a state of nature would, in the absence of order, take it upon themselves to defend themselves against others using whatever means possible, and would simultaneously mistreat others, being inherently evil-minded. Sir Isaiah Berlin once said: If you have maximum liberty, then the strong can destroy the weak, and if you have absolute equality, you cannot have absolute liberty, because you have to coerce the powerful… if they are not to devour the poor and meek… Total liberty can be dreadful, total equality can be equally frightful. (Zhu) In order to distinguish an ideal balance of liberty and justice, Rawls suggests a sort of artificial original position. Behind the veil of ignorance, the rational choice for the underlying principles of society would only be fair principles, based on the fact that no one under the “veil” would know whether or not they could or would suffer or benefit from the implementation of biased social institutions. From this “veiled” state, society would find itself needing to emerge. Order eventually would have to be made. In Rawls’ ideal formation of society, progress would need to adhere to the two Principles of Justice, The Principle of Equal Basic Liberty for All and The Difference Principle. The former of these two principles establishes equal liberty. Rawls’ explains that, “Each person has an equal right to a fully adequate scheme

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of equal basic liberties which is compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for all (Garrett).” Considering “which liberties are essential social conditions for the adequate development and full exercise of the two powers of moral personality over a complete life,” it is established by Rawls that the equal basic liberties are: “freedom of thought and liberty of conscience; the political liberties and freedom of association, as well as the freedoms specified by the liberty and integrity of the person; and finally, the rights and liberties covered by the rule of law (Garrett).” The Difference Principle fosters equal income and status, unless differences in wealth and position contribute to the advantage of
every individual affected. Rawls’ views on justice severely contrast with those of Robert Nozick, whose theory of justice is based on entitlement, as opposed to Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness. In all obviousness, justice as entitlement just wouldn’t be as fair and just as justice as fairness. Assuming the development of Rawls’ society went unhindered and as he envisioned it, it would be easy to also satisfy Berlin’s guidelines for an idealistic balance of liberty and equality.

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Works Cited Garrett, Dr. Jan. Rawls' Mature Theory of Social Justice: An Introduction for Students. 24 Aug 2005. Western Kentucky University. 20 Nov 2006 <>. Zhu, Dr. Xinmin. Guidelines For Term Paper. Antelope Valley College. 20 Nov 2006.

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