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A Theory Of Justice Essay

1582 words - 7 pages

A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls
Tier III 415A Home Page A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. This outline of an extended book review is based in large part on notes composed by Darrell Huwe. I have attempted with limited success to understand Rawls' book - please do not regard this as being in any sense an authoritative summary of Rawls' thought. I personally find this book particularly difficult to penetrate, perhaps because my training is in the physical sciences rather than philosophy, and I generalize quite beyond the evidence when I suspect that others also find it less than accessible. I hope that this review is helpful. The ...view middle of the document...

A person's good is that which is needed for the successful execution of a rational long-term plan of life given reasonably favorable circumstances. Liberty Opportunity Income Wealth Self-respect "The good is the satisfaction of rational desire." (Section 15) Each person has his or her own plan of life - what is good may vary. Right is set down in the social contract, the same for everyone, influenced by the "veil of ignorance." Rawls specializes the concept of something's being right as it being fair. (Section 18)

Principles of Justice
(Section 11)

First Principle: Liberty
Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all.

Second Principle: Wealth

Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both: (a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, consistent with the just savings principle, and (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity. Representative persons: prototypical members of any identifiable group (e.g., women, high school students, citizens of Haiti, etc.). Efficiency: any re-arrangement in which every representative person gains is more efficient. Difference principle: in order for any change to be accepted as an improvement, it must help the least advantaged representative person.

Priority Rules
Rawls explicitly addresses the fact that there will be situations where these two primary principles will be in conflict with each other. Rather than compromise between them in such cases, he takes the position that there is a specific priority.

The Priority of Liberty
The principles of justice are to be ranked in lexical order and therefore liberty can be restricted only for the sake of liberty. There are two cases: (a) a less extensive liberty must strengthen the total system of liberty shared by all; (b) a less than equal liberty must be acceptable to those with the lesser liberty.

The Priority of Justice over Efficiency and Welfare
The second principle of justice is lexically prior to the principle of efficiency and to that of maximizing the sum of advantages; and fair opportunity is prior to the difference principle. There are two cases: (a) an inequality of opportunity must enhance the opportunities of those with the lesser opportunity; (b) an excessive rate of saving must on balance mitigate the burden of those bearing this hardship.

Rawls adopts the concept of efficiency that is associated with the name Pareto in the field of economics. It is perhaps most easily described in the negative: No system can be called efficient if there is an alternative arrangement that improves the situation of some people with no worsening of the situation of any of the other people. In general, there are many arrangements that are efficient in this sense. Not all of them are equally just; other principles of justice must be invoked to...

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