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 donot 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 Chronicle of HigherEducation has published an article, "The Enduring Significance of John Rawls", by Martha Nussbaum.
John Rawls died at age 81 on November 24, 2002.
All social primary goods - liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the bases of self-respect - are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any or all of these goods is to theadvantage of the least favored.
John Locke: Free people need to agree on some ground rules in order to live together in harmony.
John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham: Act so as to maximize good (pleasure) in the aggregate.
Later twist: minimize pain. From either perspective, your actions are judged good or baddepending on the consequences they have for you and for others.
"The greatest good for the greatest number" can be abused, leading to the "tyranny of the majority" (e.g., Nazi Germany's mistreatment of the Jews and the United States' mistreatment of African Americans). Rawls' approach guards against this common source of injustice.
Acknowledge a set of firstprinciples to be subscribed to, but do not prescribe a priority ordering.
Good vs. Right
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.
"The good is thesatisfaction 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
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 beaccepted 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...