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
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.
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...