John Rawls Theory of Justice – Jurisprudence Notes

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Rawls’ theory of justice

  • Veil of ignorance – When we isolate our political, physical, social identity along with our advantages and disadvantages we would choose an original position of equality. The principles agreed to in such a situation would be just.
  • Rawls’s idea of the social contract is a hypothetical agreement in an original position of equality.
  • Rawls argue that in such situation utilitarianism and libertarianism would be rejected because of risk of being in oppressed class.
  • He gave two principles of justice that would emerge in such a situation:-

o   Equal basic liberties for all citizens which takes priority over considerations of social utility and the general welfare.
o   Difference Principle – Only those social and economic inequalities will be permitted that work to the advantage of the least well off members of society.

  • Can consent create an obligation on its own, or is some element of benefit or reliance also required?
  • Actual contracts carry moral weight insofar as they realize two ideals-autonomy and reciprocity.
  • Voluntary consent does not guarantee the fairness of the agreement and is not sufficient for create a binding moral claim.
  • An obligation to repay a benefit can arise without consent is not always morally plausible.
  • Wherever there is an obligation, there need not been an agreement. Eg – Tort law is not based on consent but on obligation to pay.
  • Contract based on consent are also not fair due to disparity in party’s bargaining powers and knowledge.
  • Thus, in veil of ignorance when a contract is reached it is just because it removes arbitrary contingencies that arise because of party’s existing knowledge.
  • Rawls explain why people would not gamble while forming social contract as in his opinion people will not gamble on choosing principles which will govern their fundamental life prospects. Also, the veil of ignorance would also ensure that they do not know they like to gamble.
  • The distribution of income and wealth that results from a free market with formal equality of opportunity cannot be considered just. The most obvious injustice of the libertarian system “is that it permits distributive shares to be improperly influenced by these factors so arbitrary from a moral point of view.”
  • Rawls believes that the meritocratic conception corrects for certain morally arbitrary advantages, but still falls short of justice. “Even if it works to perfection in eliminating the influence of social contingencies,” the meritocratic system “still permits the distribution of wealth and income to be determined by the natural distribution of abilities and talents   Rawls does not advocate for absolute equality and using the difference principle creates exception for gifted individuals to develop and exercise their talents, but with the understanding that the rewards these talents reap in the market belong to the community as a whole.
  • Objection to Difference Principle:-

o   Incentives – Critics argue that if incentive is reduced for talented individuals what is there to stop them from working altogether. Rawls replies saying that differences in form of incentives are fine as long as these individuals’ activities help the lower most section of society.
o   Effort – Critics argue that when Rawls rejects meritocracy what about those who were meritorious due the amount of effort they had put it in. Rawls replies that even effort may be the product of a favourable upbringing. Even the willingness to make an effort, to try, and so to be deserving in the ordinary sense is itself dependent upon happy family and social circumstances

  • Rawls also rejects the moral desert. (Moral desert is what a person deserves.)
  • Rawls makes an important but subtle distinction-between moral desert and what he calls “entitlements to legitimate expectations.” The difference is this: Unlike a desert claim, an entitlement can arise only once certain rules of the game are in place. It can’t tell us how to set up the rules in the first place.
  • Rawls argues that distributive justice is not about rewarding virtue or moral desert. Instead, it’s about meeting the legitimate expectations that arise once the rules of the game are in place.

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  1. Pingback: Theory of Justice according to Jurisprudence : – Notes For Legal Studies

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