John Rawls and Robert Nozick

Topics: John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Political philosophy Pages: 9 (3081 words) Published: May 4, 2012
Corporate Social Responsibility
John Rawls and Robert Nozick present two competing theories of justice Compare and contrast the two
Which view is more persuasive and why?
What implications does your position have regarding the structure of our society? Module No: 26160
Student Number: 200912136
John Rawls and Robert Nozick both present theories of justice, their views are very distinct and on some level similar. Rawls theory comes from a utilitarian view, utilitarian is a doctrine that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority on the other hand Nozick’s theory is based on John Locke’s ideas of natural rights.

The theories have much in common as many of their ideas can be seen in today’s society; Nozick’s ideas are based upon the ideas put forth from John Locke. Locke’s ideas are imbedded within the U.S constitution, quoting Locke directly; his idea’s are very influential in U.S. society. Other ideas put forth such as the right to trade, the free market where governments have no influence can also be interpreted in this fashion.

On the other hand Rawls ideas can be seen within the United Kingdom where a welfare state is in place to protect the least advantaged of society. Other countries have sought to extend their welfare system, such as Germany and the Netherlands. Other factors of Rawls theory can also be seen today, such as the fact that any individual, no matter what background they come from can acquire a position of power, an example of this is that anybody can become a member of parliament, prime minister or even the president of the United States. John Rawls theory is called Justice as Fairness and was published in Rawls book A Theory of Justice in 1971. The theory is divided into two principles; however Rawls has arranged the principles in order of priority, so as if the two principles were to ever clash then the first principle would take precedent over the second, “These principles are to be arranged in a serial order with the first principle prior to the second. This ordering means that a departure from the institutions of equal liberty required by the first principle cannot be justified by, or compensated for, by greater social and economic advantages” (Rawls, 1989, 61). Moreover the principles are intended to be a single coherent theory. The first principle also known as the principle of equal liberty states “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” (Rawls, 1989, 302). The second principle is broken down into two sub-principles (a) called the difference principle and (b) called the principle of fair equality of opportunity. The principle states “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, an (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of faire equality of opportunity” (Rawls, 1989, 302). Rawls explains the first principle, “the basic liberties of citizens are, roughly speaking, political liberty (the right to vote and to be eligible for public office) together with freedom of speech and assembly; liberty of conscience and freedom of thought; freedom of the person along with the right to hold (personal) property; and freedom from arbitrary arrest and seizure as defined by the concept of the rule of law. These liberties are required to be equal by the first principle, since citizens of a just society are to have the same basic rights” (Rawls, 1989, 61). The notion of basic rights entails that certain rights such as freedom of speech and to own personal property are available to everyone in society no matter what race, sex and political standing an individual comes from. The second principle according to Rawls (1989) means that regardless of an individual’s social background, race or sex. An individual has the...

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