Define justice. Critically examine Rawls’ theory of Justice.
Question 5. Define justice. Critically examine Rawls’ theory of Justice.
What is meant by Justice? Examine the views of John Rawls on Justice.
What is justice? Discuss Rawls’ theory of justice.
Evaluate John Rawls’ theory of Justice.
Discuss John Rawls’ theory of justice and its feminist critique.
Examine Rawls theory of Justice.
Answer – Introduction
John Rawls also believed in the concept of justice as fairness. That means every person should be treated with fairness and recommends equal basic liberties, equal opportunities to similar individuals, and offering the highest possible benefits to the less advantaged members of society. the concept of justice in his famous book ‘A Theory of Justice.
A Theory of Justice, John Rawls brings forth the argument in favor of a principled reconciliation of liberty and equality, which is meant to be the governing force behind the basic structure of an orderly society. This argument is backed by inspiration taken from David Hume. Additionally, John Rawls also believed in the concept of justice as fairness. That means every person should be treated with fairness and recommends equal basic liberties, equal opportunities to similar individuals, and offering the highest possible benefits to the less advantaged members of society.
This theory of justice, as believed by Rawls, helps in the functioning of a just society. This section is crucial in the chapter of John Rawls Theory of Justice UPSC exam.
John Rawls also adds that the modern-day society should be structured well enough that the people are able to enjoy the maximum possible liberty keeping in mind that an individual’s liberty does not harm the liberty or wellbeing of other members of society.
Also, certain inequalities are to be allowed in society if their absence brings more harm than good. Finally, if there are inequalities such as the aforementioned, less fortunate members of society should not suffer solely for their absence of resources to deal with them, and it must be made sure that it’s not hard for them to occupy a position of power.
Objective of the theory
The very purpose of Rawls introducing the theory of justice was to find a way to create a well-ordered society. According to him, a well-ordered society should predominantly have the following two elements:
- It should be designed to advance the good of its members and effectively regulated by a public conception of justice;
- It should be a society wherein all people accept and know that all other people accept the same principles of justice and that the basic social institutions satisfy those principles.
A well-ordered society
As discussed earlier, Rawls’ theory of justice is inspired by the Social Contract Theory as interpreted by the political philosopher Immanuel Kant. Rawls extended Kant’s theory by taking the viewpoint of a hypothetical contract wherein the decision-makers come together to formulate rules for defining the basic structure of a well-ordered society, using set principles of justice. As per Rawls, this formulation is done by observing the following conditions of the contract:
Objective circumstances refer to circumstances that give rise to a situation in which the members of a society co-exist in some identifiable territory and are of some comparable strengths and weaknesses so that no one has an edge over another.
Rawls opines that the most significant objective circumstance of justice is the one in which the resources available to a society are moderately scarce. He stated that to achieve justice, natural and other resources are not so abundant that schemes of cooperation are superfluous, nor are conditions so plentiful that fruitful ventures must inevitably break down. This is because if resources are abundantly and easily available for anyone to use then nobody will need anybody’s help, making social cooperation unnecessary. Contrarily, if the resources are too scarce, there will not be enough scope for social cooperation.
Veil of Ignorance:
- It cannot be expected that everyone puts aside their personal interests and thinks of the good of society, especially with keeping personal interest in mind of their future generations. Such perspectives cannot form the base of a theory of justice for a society
- Reaching a fair and just decision: John Rawls argues that the only way to arrive at it is if we imagine ourselves to be in a situation in which we have to make opinions about how society should be organised although we don’t know which position we’d ourselves occupy in that society
- Simply, we do not know in which family we would be born like an ‘upper’ caste or ‘lower’ caste family, rich or poor, privileged or disadvantaged. In this case, we will be likely to support a decision about the rules and organisation of that future society which would be fair for all the members
- Rawls describes this as supposing under a ‘veil of ignorance’
- Rawls expects that in such a situation of complete ignorance about our possible position and status in society, each person would decide in the way they generally do, that is, in terms of their own interests
- But since no Nobody knows who he’d be, and what’s going to benefit him, each will ideate the future society from the point of view of the worst-off
- It’ll be clear to a person who can reason and think for himself, that those who are born privileged will enjoy some special opportunities
- Rational self: It would appear to be legit for every individual, acting to their own advantage, to attempt to consider decisions of association that will guarantee sensible freedoms to the weaker sections. The trial will subsist to witness that important resources, like education, health, sheltered., are available to all
- It’s of course not simple to erase our identities and to imagine oneself under a veil of ignorance. But moreover, it’s equally tough for most people to be self- sacrificing and share their good fortune with Unknowns
- Given these human faults and limitations, it’s better for us to think of a frame that doesn’t demand extraordinary actions
- Wearing the conceived veil of ignorance is the initial step in getting through a system of fair laws and policies
- Rawls consequently argues that intelligent thinking, not morality, could lead us to be fair and judge impartially regarding how to sort the benefits and burdens of a society
- In his illustration, there are no aims or ethics of morality that are given to us in advance and we abide free to decide what’s best for ourselves
- It’s this faith which makes Rawls’ theory an important and effective way to approach the question of fairness and justice
John Rawls’ Theory of Justice has received a lot of criticisms from fellow philosophers and book reviewers. Various philosophers who are advocates of the theory of strict equality criticized the book by saying that certain inequalities that are to be permitted in the eyes of John Rawls are unacceptable even if they did benefit the least advantaged members of society. They also argued that this approach of allowing certain inequalities upsets the balance of a well-structured society that Rawls spoke about in his book. Lastly, as Rawls primarily used utilitarianism as the main theory for comparing his own theory, philosophers criticized the book for not portraying maximum utility.
Feminist critics of Rawls, however, might revise their critique in light of an appropriate understanding of Rawls’s appeal to stability. They may argue that in fact the two principles will not lend to self-propagation so long as women and other underprivileged groups still feel that society has treated them in an unjust fashion.
Feminists could argue that Rawls’s tacit presumption of a split between the private and the public whereby many of the institutions that oppress women including the family are seen as private, and thus immune to the claims of justice, does lead to injustice. Thus, overzealousness in the attempt to make room for personal freedom in adopting a diverse number of reasonable and comprehensive world views may undermine the attempt to develop a just society.
By hinging the acceptance of a theory of justice upon overlapping consensus, Rawls allows for sexist institutions since the majority most likely believe that unjust traditional institutions are in fact just.
John Rawls’ theory of justice has had a profound role in defining justice in one of the closest ways possible. Though it is near-impossible to come across a real-life circumstance supporting the hypothetical situation illustrated by him, Rawls has succeeded in elucidating the concept of justice as fairness to a great extent. Most importantly, his theory sheds light on the rights and liberties of minorities, which utilitarianism failed to do.