John Rawls

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John Rawls is a contemporary, American Philosopher born in 1921 and died in 2002.

 

John Rawls was a leading figure in political philosophy therefore I don’t suggest talking about Justice without mentioning Rawls’ theories.

 

Central to Rawls’ theory of justice are the concepts of fairness and equality from behind what he calls the “original position”.

 

Rawls believed that the social contract must be drawn up from an original position in which everyone decides on the rules for society from behind a veil of ignorance.

 

The “Veil of ignorance” is an element of the way people can establish society. Essentially, it means that if an individual had no idea as to where they would fit in a social or political order, they would make decisions with the least benefitted individuals in mind. In other words, everyone would be blind of their social status.

 

From this original position, Rawls believes that two principles of justice arise. The first is the liberty principle, the idea that all people should have access to their basic liberties — freedom of speech, political freedoms, personal property and freedom from arbitrary arrest.

The second principle, the difference principle, states that inequalities in social and economic distribution must be arranged so that they provide the greatest benefit to those with the least advantage. That is, if goods are being distributed in a society, those who need them most should be given priority to receive them.

Rawls claims that we must arrive at this conclusion from the original position because we do not want factors beyond our control to dictate the opportunities we have in life. If we are born at a disadvantage, into a poor family, for example, we must be given the opportunity to overcome it in a way that puts us on equal ground with those who did not have to overcome the same obstacles.

 

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