John Rawls. A Theory of Justice. The Structure of the Theory of Justice. Justice is to be understood as fairness . The principles of justice that order society are to be chosen in one joint act by the members of society in the original position.
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John Rawls A Theory of Justice
The Structure of the Theory of Justice • Justice is to be understood as fairness. • The principles of justice that order society are to be chosen in one joint act by the members of society in the original position. • The original position is a hypothetical situation, not some pre-civilized period of the history of mankind. • In the original position the principles of justice are chosen from behind a veil of ignorance. • The principles chosen from behind the veil of ignorance are fair because the situation is one that is procedurally fair.
The Nature of the Deliberators • In the original position the deliberators are to be thought of in the following way. • They are roughly equal. • They are rational in the narrow sense of desiring to take the most effective means necessary to a chosen end. They are not rational in the wide sense that involves already having adopted a thick theory of ethics. • They are mutually disinterested, but not in the sense of being egoists. They are conceived of as not taking an interest in another’s interests.
The Veil of Ignorance • Behind the veil of ignorance the deliberators are shielded from knowing certain pieces of information about themselves and the actual world. They are shielded from this information in order to guarantee that they choose principles that are in the interest of everyone, and not biased or unfair to certain groups. Behind the veil of ignorance the deliberators do not know: • Their place in society. • Their class position or social status. • Their fortune: both in terms of their natural abilities, such as their strength and intelligence, and assets, such as money or land. • Their conception of the good life. • The way society is organized in terms of what abilities and assets are important.
Why Utilitarianism Would Not be Chosen • Behind the veil of ignorance the deliberators would not choose utilitarianism as a principle of justice. • There are at least two reasons why: • On the one hand, it seems irrational to choose a principle that would justify certain actions in virtue of the fact that they maximize group utility, at the cost of individual liberty. If one does not know which group they would end up in, it seems irrational –simply by virtue of self-interest– to chose a principle that could go against your own happiness at the cost of the happiness of others. • On the other hand, utilitarianism does not take into consideration distribution of goods in ranking states of affairs.
Reflective Equilibrium • Reflective equilibrium is a notion of epistemic justification. • It is a property of a set of principles and intuitions about cases, principles, and rankings of principles. • A set of principles and intuitions is in reflective equilibrium for a subject when the principles and the intuitions coincide and the subject knows how the judgments that the intuitions code for can be derived from the principles. • Reflective equilibrium is not a permanent state of stability. A set of principles and intuitions can come out of equilibrium by reconsideration of new information by way of the consideration of new principles and / or intuitions about novel cases.
Ranking in the Original Position • One conception of justice is more reasonable and justifiable than another if and only if reasonable people would choose it over other conceptions of justice in the original position. If A is chosen over B in a fair situation, then A is more reasonable and justifiable than B. • Choosing a conception of justice from a set of conceptions of justice just amounts to a choice problem in the original position. • Two separate points one can criticize: • (1) The description the contract choosing situation. Is it acceptable? • (2)Is the reasoning that leads to the principles chosen sound? • It is possible to claim that the contract situation is unacceptable, and it is also possible to accept the contract position and deny that the principles of justice that Rawls argues for are in fact the most reasonable.
The Two Principles of Justice and Lexical Ordering • The Liberty Principle: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others. • The Distribution Principle: social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage., and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all. • The Liberty Principle is lexically prior to the Distribution principle. This means that one cannot violate the Liberty principle and justify it by appeal to the Distribution principle.
Primary Goods and the Distribution Principle • A primary good is a good that any rational person wants, no matter what else he or she wants. • Justification for inequalities in distribution: • A unequal distribution of goods, D, is justified at time t only if the distribution D is to the advantage of the least well-off group of individuals. • Example: one is justified in paying doctor’s more than teacher’s only if that difference in pain is the minimum amount required to incentivize those talented enough to be doctors to pursue that career path.
The argument for the two principles • The two principles of justice, Liberty and Distribution are justified only if they would be chosen from the original position over all other conceptions of justice. • In the original position the deliberators are behind the veil of ignorance. • From behind the veil of ignorance deliberators solving a choice problem of which conception of justice to choose would reason according to the maximin rule. • The maximin rule selects Liberty and Distribution, and the lexical priority of Liberty over Distribution. • So,Liberty and Distribution are justified.
The maximin rule • The maximin rule: from a set of possible choices C, we are to adopt the ci that is such that ci’sworst outcome is superior to all the other alternatives in C. • Consider the following gain-and-loss table. Which decision should we make? The maximinrule requires that we choose D3since it has the least worse consequence via cell [D3, C1].
The argument for why we would reason according to the maximin rule in the original position • First, since maximin does not take into consideration expected probability, it must explain satisfactorily why it is blind to probabilities. The maximin rule is justified in the original position, because probabilities are not available, the deliberators know nothing about how society might be arranged in specific enough detail to generate probabilities. • Second, the deliberators have a minimal conception of the good. The conception is such that they care very little about achieving anything above the minimum that they can be sure to acquire. • Third the outcomes of the alternatives are one’s the deliberators would reject because they are unreasonable. • With the three features in place maximin reasoning is coherent.
Reasoning to the Two Principles In a situation in which I have no real information about my own conception of the good life and where I will be placed in society in terms of my natural abilities, the resources available to me, and how these two things function together given how the world turns out, I would choose to rule out principles that lead to bad outcomes for everyone. My reasoning is this, since I don’t know where I am in society, I want to put myself in the best position possible, which requires choosing the principles of justice that lead to securing the least worst outcome. Now let me suppose that my alternatives are utilitarianism and the distribution principle. According to utilitarianism I could end up having my happiness sacrificed just because of the happiness of the greater good. However, at least by the distribution principle, I can be sure that inequalities come about only if they are to the advantage of the least well-off. So, if I am the least well-off, than at least the inequalities will be to my advantage.
Objections to the Veil of Ignorance • Rawls uses the veil of ignorance as part of his interpretation of the original position, and as a way of grounding his argument via maximin reasoning for the distribution principle. However, one might think that the veil of ignorance is too strong in terms of what knowledge it rules out. With such limited knowledge how can anyone make a decision, and how can their really be different deliberators. • An alternative conception is that of the impartial spectator, whichis found in the work of Hume and Smith. The impartial spectator, unlike the deliberators in Rawls’ original position have full knowledge.
Objections to the Distribution Principle • One objection to Rawls’ distribution principle comes from Robert Nozick’s theory of justice. • Nozick argues that Rawls theory is a current time slice account of justice. It does not take into account how a state of affairs came about. • The Wilt Chamberlin counterexample: Suppose Wilt Chamberlin signs a contract in which he gets 25 cents for each ticket bought at a game in which he plays. Anyone that attends is free to attend or not attend the game. Now suppose a lot of people show up at the game, and thus Wilt gets 1,000,000 dollars. Further, suppose that this is a lot more than is required to get Wilt to play basketball? Is this situation just? Should Wilt be forced to redistribute the money?