John Rawls Theory of Justice

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John Rawls Theory of Justice includes two principles. In this Theory of Justice there are two principles he believed people should follow. The first out of the two principles is the equal right principle. In the equality rights principle, which states that, “each person is to be granted an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for everyone else” (Rawls p.922). His second principle was social inequality. This principle he states is to govern the, “social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both… (a) reasonably excepted to be to everyone’s advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all” (Rawls p.922).

The first principle takes precedence over the second it guarantees as much liberty to individuals as possible, corresponding with others having the same amount of liberty. The first portion of the second principle conveys the familiar ideal of equality of prospect. The second part of the principle called the difference principle specifies that disparities are valid only if they help the least advantaged members of society.

The equal rights principle is to be protected in the constitution of the state. Some basic rights would be liberty of freedom of religion, right to vote, right to hold public office, freedom of speech, etc. This principle takes precedence over the second principle. In other words, we cannot exchange any of our liberties for some other goods. We first secure these rights equally for everyone. We could accept this principle because no one would be willing to gamble with these rights that secure your political liberty and most essential freedom.

Rawls recognized the right of private individuals, corporations, or workers to own private property, but he took out the the right to own the means of production such as, mines, factories, and farms. He also left out the right to succeed to wealth. These things were not essential liberties in his viewpoint. Rawls agreed that basic liberties could be partial, but only for the sake of liberty. By stating this he is Limiting the liberties of a biased group that expected to harm the liberties of others may be acceptable.

The social inequality principle in other words, is when some gain more political power. This has to be under circumstances where anyone in society has an equivalent prospect to hold that office. This Second Principle focused on equality. Rawls came to a conclusion that a society could not evade inequalities amongst its people. Inequalities result from inherited characteristics, social class, personal motivation, and even luck. Rawls insisted that a fair society should obtain ways to lessen inequalities in areas it could act. By offices and positions in his Second Principle, Rawls mainly meant the best jobs in private business and public employment. Rawls says that these jobs should be accessible to everyone by the society by providing a fair equality of opportunity.

One way for a society to do this would be to eradicate discrimination. Another way would be to provide everyone the same access to education. The second part of this rules out a situation in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Therefore, any inequality that allows the people at the top to gain must also increase the situation of the least well off.

Rawls thinks that the two principles of justice would be chose in the Original Position is theoretical bargaining condition in which we are tasked with selecting the rule of justice that will steer us in establishing the basic structure of society. The nature of the choice is that each person will choose the set of principles that will be best for him/herself. The veils of ignorance are to prevent quarrel with others while pursuing one’s self-interest, all situations and conditions that can impact one’s choice of principles of justice should be removed. Once the source for bias is eliminated, the foundation for a choice of fair principles of fairness is created.

Choosing the principles regardless of their certain interests, people in the original position long for more, instead of a smaller amount, of the main social goods. The maximin principle is when people in the original position will also choose what’s right, by trying to maximize the minimum that they will receive. They want to make sure that the worst that could happen to them is the least bad of the options. The people must agree on the rules of justice by coming to an overall agreement.

Rawls believes that the rules that we would all agree upon in the Original Position are guaranteed to be fair. If the parties in the Original Position are agreeing on the principle justice, we will have reasons to maintain those terms and our agreement with them is voluntary until people leave the Original Position. The principles agreed to in the original position are the conditions of social contract that we would agree to as free and equal people under standings that are just. The principle agreed to in the original position are just because the conditions under which they are agreed to are just. These conditions are just because the Veil of Ignorance ignores the knowledge of those possibilities that allow people to be, “guided by their prejudice” (Rawls p. 920).

Rawls would agree with the second principle because in the original position no one is able to succeed in any distinct benefits. Correspondingly, no one has any reason to accept distinct benefits. This is obvious to everyone in the original position so “in regard to the second principle, the distribution of wealth and income, and positions of authority and responsibility, are to be consistent with both the basic liberties and equality of opportunity” (Rawls p.923).

If there are disparities in income and fortune that work to make every person better off than they would be were things distributed evenly, then these disparities would be agreeable to all. For example, if people belong to a creed that teaches men and women that they are unequal in certain parts of life, then this belief would challenge Rawls’ principles about equality of basic liberties and equal opportunity.

Our personal interests can be acknowledged preceding to life in society. It rules out principle that sees social bonds as essentially good, it’s assumes we are basically independent rather than essentially social. Rawls assumes we can live implicitly being the veil of ignorance. But we can’t make up the idyllic good society behind this veil. Our morals and ideas of what is good comes from others. Rawls argument wouldn’t stand up to this even if it was equal.

The most debatable portion of Rawls’ theory of justice revolves around the difference principle. The Difference Principle is a system of strict equality that amplifies the absolute position of the least fortunate in society should ripe better benefits. People have argued that it is unfair to take from people who have earned what they have and then redistribute it for the benefit of the less fortunate. They also argued that justifications for how people come to be in more or less advantaged positions is related to fairness. Another problem with this is trying to keep everyone equal isn’t possible.

Some people deserve a higher level of material goods because of their hard work or contributions to society. For example, different jobs require different pay. If a person went to school for many years to obtain a degree, why would someone pay them the same as a person who didn’t obtain a degree. If we were to do this doctor would be paid minimum wage to do heart transplants. That isn’t right because they had to go to school for years and learn how to do that job.

While on the other hand a person who works at McDonald’s has to go through training for a week just to learn how to make food and serve it to customers. At this point making everyone pay will be unfair to the person who went to school to learn a specific thing to get a job that most people can’t get. Rawls even admits that this version of having this just society was worldly idealized. Rawls even goes to say that there was less support for the Difference Principle.

With Rawls second principle pure equality will never be possible. As nice of an idea that is, it is not realistic. But, attempting to make as many people as socially and economically equal as possible should be a goal to strive for in the long run. There should always be some sort of inequality in wages because it does provide incentives for others to work harder and some occupations are worth more money. This principle tries to lay a foundation to help level out opportunity and not discriminate based on social lottery. The principle tries to even out opportunity no matter an individual’s capabilities, whether those are existing naturally or by position.

The principle tries to help the worst off, but Rawls ideas about how to go about this didn’t accomplish that goal, it doesn’t even state how to go about the wage gap, it doesn’t even state how to allocate primary goods. A great example of this are big corporations who make a large sum of money by paying people a low wage or bare minimum to work for them. In this case they are not really doing any work. This principal doesn’t work because the people who have less continue to have less.


Cite this paper

John Rawls Theory of Justice. (2020, Sep 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/john-rawls-theory-of-justice/



What are Rawls 2 principles of justice?
Rawls' two principles of justice are the principle of equal basic liberties and the difference principle, which states that social and economic inequalities should be arranged to benefit the least advantaged members of society. These principles are designed to promote fairness and equality in society.
What is John Rawls concept of justice called?
John Rawls' concept of justice is called "justice as fairness." He believed that justice is a matter of fair and impartial treatment of all people, regardless of their social status or position.
What is Rawls theory of social justice?
Rawls theory of social justice is the belief that everyone is equal and deserving of the same basic rights and opportunities. It is the idea that all people are born with certain inherent rights that must be protected.
What is the main idea of Rawls theory of justice?
His theory of justice as fairness describes a society of free citizens holding equal basic rights and cooperating within an egalitarian economic system .
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