Rawls theory of justice revolves around the adaptation of two fundamental principles of justice which would, in turn, guarantee a just and morally acceptable society. The first principle guarantees the right of each person to have the most extensive basic liberty compatible with the liberty of others. The second principle states that social and economic positions are to be a) to everyone’s advantage and b) open to all.

A key problem to Rawls is to show how such principles would be universally adopted and here the work borders on general ethical issues.  He introduces a theoretical “veil of ignorance” in which all the “players” in the social game would be placed in a situation which is called the “original position”. Having only a general knowledge of the facts of “life and society”, each player is to abide based on their moral obligation. By denying the players any specific information about themselves it forces them to adopt a generalized point of view that bears a strong resemblance to the moral point of view.

“Moral conclusions can be reached without abandoning the prudential standpoint of positing, a moral outlook merely by pursuing one’s own prudential reasoning under certain procedural bargaining and knowledge constraints.”

Rawls proposes that the most reasonable principles of justice for a society are those that individuals would themselves agree to behind the “veil of ignorance”, in circumstances in which each is represented as a moral person, endowed with the basic moral powers. What this position supports is that while each person has different ends and goals, different backgrounds and talents, each ought to have a fair chance to develop his or her talents and to pursue those goals – fair equality for opportunity. It is not a race or contest where the talented or gifted prevail, it should be complete cooperation among all so that there may be reasonable life for all.

What the “veil of ignorance” brings out is that we can accept utilitarianism as a public conception of justice only if we are prepared to let someone be subject to conditions we would not be prepared to subject ourselves. However, it is not the responsibility of my actions to ensure the fulfillment of another person’s goals. These principles create an equal distribution of the “pie”, if you will, yet it is not attainable unless pursued or strived for. There is no room for idle observation, meaning, that while we all possess equal opportunity as we all are equally moral persons, the choice of what you wish to possess materially as well as intellectually is the discretion and capability of the individual.

Why should we accept these principles as principles of justice? Primarily, these principles promote equality among all. Each individual has the same basic liberties and opportunities. Each individual has a moral obligation to accept the existence of every other human being. In doing so, all people become equal in their position and desires. We are equal in that each has the basic powers of choice and on acting on a sense of justice. The responsibility of procedure and growth relies on each and every individual his/her self. By doing so we may create a level playing field. Is this a form of pure competition? It would seem so. Competition in that what is desired must be achieved by one and desired by many perhaps. A benefit of competitive circumstance is the betterment of all parties involved as they must evolve in order to surpass one another.

Also, in fair equality for opportunity we may eliminate all forms of discrimination and discretion of races, ethnic origin, social standards and religious intolerance and beliefs. All of these characteristics are a component of the individual person thus making him/her “individual”. Justice is only succumbed when the liberties of an individual are affected because of an external opinion of these characteristics, and, in the oppression of these characteristics upon another. They are nothing more than components of a people.

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2 Comments on "John Rawls’ Theory of Justice: Summary & Analysis"

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R. Dede
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Many “tribal” societies work off of the basic principles in Rawls’ theory. Something his theory does not address is what to do when someone or a group decides they want more than everyone else. Egalitarianism works so long as everyone has basically the same set of advantages for, say, self-defense. In tribal societies, everyone has a bow and some arrows, and no one person or even a band of people could really take over the entire tribe and force all other members to do their bidding. In such a situation, which the founding fathers and framers of the USA also… Read more »
Dr chavan ys
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Simple human behavior stated complicated

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