Rawls Theory of Justice

Topics: John Rawls, Justice, Political philosophy Pages: 7 (1842 words) Published: November 9, 2010
The conventional accounts of Justice normally begin by
stating a fundamental rule of Aristotle – Justice is to treat equals equally and unequals unequally, and that unequal
treatment should be in proportion to the inequality. In
everyday life though, justice is seen as an attribute of law, while all laws are not necessarily just. Many great socio-
political movements of the world have focused from time to
time on unjust laws eg Apartheid laws in South Africa and
Caste laws in India. Impartiality and fairness are understood to be the two aspects of justice. But it would be misleading to suggest that Justice refers solely to the fair application of a rule. Some rules, though fairly applied, may produce

results repugnant to our intuitive conceptions of justice.
Though these are rules that do not discriminate, they cannot be called ‘just’. Eg Indirect taxes like salt tax that all sections of the society had to pay – it posed a burden for the poor people and in that way, was not at all just.

Contemporary politics is to a great extent about who gets
what and why and the criteria commonly employed for
the distribution of goods and services are ‘desert’, ‘merit’ and ‘need’. The concept of desert refers to the actions of men and women that result in special treatment either in the form of rewards or n the form of punishments. Thus, justice

is linked with distribution and is a distributive concept.
Justice is divided into two broad categories – procedural
and social. In theories of social justice, justice is seen as a feature of the society, so evaluation is done in terms
of how just or unjust a society or states is according to

some previously agreed-upon criteria, thereby making it
teleological. Such theories promote the intervention of
state to uphold the principles of justice, and thus uphold
positive liberty. In procedural theories demands of justice
are satisfied if certain rules are followed. The outcomes
of the procedures are not relevant to the evaluation of
justice. The procedural theories do not make a distinction
between production and distribution. It also implies that the State would have no authority to interfere in the matter of
individual entitlements and it would be unjust if the State
were to do so. So, under such a theory, free market is the
best guarantee of justice.
John Rawls’ most well known book, Theory of Justice,
presents a very strong defense of the idea of justice based
on the basic tenets of procedural theory. In order to avoid
the most common criticism leveled against procedural
theory - that despite the meticulous following of rules unjust conditions might be created – Rawls suggests that under
controlled conditions rational human beings would choose
principles that would uphold ideas consistent with the basic idea of distributive justice.
Rawls insists that justice prevails only when every departure from equality can be rationally justified. His theory is
premised upon the need for equality. In his theory,
individuals are abstracted from their social and economic
contexts behind the ‘veil of ignorance’. Behind this veil individuals are unaware of who they are and what their
interests, skills, needs are. This was done because usually
people are prevented from upholding just principles being
guided by their selfish interests. But if suppose a group of

people are unaware of their identity as a Dalit or Brahmin,
Kuki or Naga, Muslim or Hindu, and don’t know which way
the fault lines of discrimination runs in the society then they choose impartially and evaluate different conceptions of
justice on the basis of general considerations rather than
based in favour of principles that would advance their own
interests. But in Rawls’ hypothetical situation called
the ‘original’ position these people would have an
elementary knowledge of economics, psychology and would
also have a sense of justice. These people would be self-
interested but not egoists. They...
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