JohnRawls Principles of Justice

JohnRawls Principles of Justice

Accordingto Rawls (1999), the ‘original position’ defines a state where aperson is required to imagine being self-interested but rational andto stand behind the ‘veil of ignorance’. The veil of ignorance inthis case refers to a position where an individual does not knowtheir sex, race, physical handicap (if any), sexual orientation,family, social class and generation among other aspects that defineand categorize people. The term ‘self-interested’ implies thatthe person is motivated to make informed decisions on whateverappears more beneficial. However, the self-interested persons arewell aware of the differing positions that human beings can findthemselves in. Additionally, the participant is also assumed to havean understanding of the general psychological facts and human nature.Rawls (1999) believes that if a participant to this exercise is givenan opportunity to choose the rules to govern the world he would usefair procedures to do so. Based on his beliefs, he came up with twoprinciples that he thought self-interested rational people wouldchoose which include the principle of equal liberty and thedifference principle.

Theprinciple of equal liberty is egalitarian in nature as it distributesbroad liberties in an equal ground for all persons. According to theprinciple, every person is subject to equal right which isextensively compatible with liberties for all under similarcircumstances (Rawls, 1999). Using examples of various members ofsociety working under different capacities, Rawls states that allpeople yearn for liberty and certain rights, powers andopportunities, substantial income, and to sugar coat all thesefactors earn self-respect. Rawls categorizes these elements in orderof their importance. According to him, personal liberty is the mostimportant, seconded by social-economic benefits and followed closelyby equitable chances to economic welfare. Consequently, people makedecisions based on their conception of what is best and that in themost effective means to satisfy their desires.

Thereasoning behind this idea is the fact that a rationalself-interested individual would always choose to belong in ageneration that does not have less than average access to resources.As a result, such a person would most probably endorse the principle.It emerges that from this proposition, every generation (future andpresent) should have access to practically proportional resources inaddition to equal rights of ownership (Garrett, 2011). In an idealsociety under this principle, life is seen as communal and theapproach may be closely related to other well-known philosophicalideologies adopted by some countries such as socialism. Perhaps, thecomplexity of contemplating a society where everyone is equal is whatled to formulation of the second justice principle (the differenceprinciple).

Accordingto the difference principle, existing economic and social disparitiesshould be organized in such a way that they help to meet twoobjectives providing the maximum possible advantage to the lessprivileged members of the society and provision of equal opportunityto access official position to all members of a society. Garrett(2011), states that the second objective of this principle, whichallow each person to have an equal chance of appointment to anoffice, is fundamentally equivalent to the principle of equal libertyas it is also egalitarian in nature. The first objective of thedifference principle may not be termed as totally egalitarian as itrecognizes that there are people in the society who have more thanaverage capacity, talents, and training. Such people are to berewarded based on the benefit that their abilities offer to the lessgifted persons in the society.

Itemerges that the ‘difference principle’ does not support strictequality as long as the prevailing disparity subject to scrutinywould in one way or another result in some advantages to theunderprivileged owing to use of the special position and abilities.According to Lamont &amp Favor (1996), some scholars do not agreethat both the difference and equality principles suggested by Rawlsexplain the significant moral roles of responsibility and luckadequately in social-economic life. The egalitarianism concept aroundluck has made attempts to design principles such as distributivetheory that will appropriately reflect sensitivity of the differencebetween responsibility and luck since one may argue that a persongets based on their hard work. The demerit of equality here is theimplication that it may have on the moral and motivation ofindividuals in regard to societal responsibilities.

Inmy opinion, I think that Rawls principle of justice hold water to asubstantial level. If a person had a chance to choose the kind ofenvironment he want to live in and the ideal society that he wouldprefer to be part of, it goes without saying that most people wouldchoose what they believe to be the best. No one would choose to bepart of a society that faces discrimination from other more superiorentities or to be classified among the handicapped and who are oftenlooked down upon. His theory may be interpreted to account forreasons why people, especially those originating from families livingin poverty, work so hard to change their economic circumstances.Furthermore, the world applauses and recognizes efforts of great menwho rises from time to time to alleviate giant human sufferings.Philanthropic work by both corporate organizations and individuals isa global phenomenon with firms that contributes the most receivingthe best rating in the public eye.

Afurther reflection on the two principles of justice as suggested byRawls directs my preference to the second principle as compared tothe principle of equal liberty. The difference principle allowspeople who may be endowed with similar talents, abilities or skillsto have the motivation of utilizing these aspects maximally. Myimagination of a situation where hard work means nothing shows thatunder performance will be the norm. If people get some benefits aboveother society members for being more helpful by using theircreativity and innovativeness, it is likely that more contribution tothe wellbeing of the entire community will be realized. Contrary towhat Rawls believes, the welfare based principles do not advocate forprimary distribution of material commodities or services (Lamont &ampFavor, 1996). Material goods do not increase a society’s wellbeingas they lack intrinsic value. According to utilitarianism advocates,an alternative principle must be applied which brings this discussionto another angle as I will illustrate in the next paragraph(distributive justice).

Inaddition to the two principles of social justice as stipulated byRawls (1999), under the same circumstances of veil of ignorance, Ibelieve that self-interest rational thinker will also choose theprinciple of distributive justice. Arneson (1997) argues that thetheory of distributive justice aims at compensating less privilegedindividuals in the society through granting facilitative servicessponsored by those who are more advantaged. Naturally, we areassuming that the person is not ignorant of the human conditions thatpeople in the society may from time to time find themselves as in thecase used by Rawls. Similarly, the psychological awareness and humannature assumptions are also part of what constitutes the originalposition of the participant. Given that one may not know exactly whatposition they find themselves in, it is natural for a person to begenerous toward others who are unlucky. In my opinion, this may notbe explained as purely generosity or philanthropy. The major forcetowards giving is to attract future support in case one needs to beassisted. I think it is natural and humane to help others as a formof security in case of happening of unforeseen occurrences. Afterall, distributive justice does not mean getting something fornothing.

Thesame idea is brought out by Garrett (2011) when he equatesdistributive justice to socialism. Human life as we know it can becompared to a lottery jumble where different participants collectdifferent rewards or misfortunes from the same basket depending onchance. It is the duty of the lucky members to share their catch withthose who gets unlucky in such an exercise. Arneson (1997) furtherstipulates that in the society, some people are born in wealth, otherwith natural intelligence and talents and others with varying formsof fortunes. The opposite also applies as others are born with thenatural inclination to become “losers” in life. The authorstrengthens his argument with an illustration used by Rawls in aprevious study. The illustration involves two children one from asuperior origin from genetic make up to economic position and theother from illiterate poor parents. The inequality between the twodifferences, which is not by choice of either, will in the long runresult in lucky and extremely unlucky individuals in the society. Theonly way this disparity can be eliminated is by people adopting andapplying the principle of distributive justice.

However,distributive justice has also attracted criticism from advocates ofother ideologies. For instance, libertarian principles are a sharpcontradiction to all the principles supporting equality through anydistributive approaches. Libertarian postulate that pursuingactivities such as distributing personal wealth to the society goesagainst the more fundamental human demand of self-ownership andpersonal liberty (Lamont &amp Favor, 1996). The feminists formanother group of people opposed to the theory supporting distributionof resources for equality arguing that the prevailing approaches useddo not put into focus the circumstances of women. The feministssupport principles that favor women as they spend a relativelysizable part of their life rearing children and out of activeeconomic activities (Lamont &amp Favor, 1996).

Inconclusion, Rawls principles of justice lay a fundamental backgroundwithin which advocates of other ideologies and principles can basetheir argument. The two justice principles have some applicability inreal life despite the fact that they were developed under theassumption of participants being behind the veil of ignorance. Thebottom line is that all rational human beings crave for what is bestfor them first and for the society.


Anerson,R. (1997). Rawls,responsibility, and distributive justice.Retrieved from,+R.+(1997).+Rawls,+Responsibility,+and+Distributive+Justice&amphl=en

Garrett,J. (2011). JohnRawls on justice. Retrievedfrom

Lamont,J., &amp Favor, C. (1996). Distributivejustice.Retrieved from

Rawls,J. (1999). Atheory of justice.Oxford: Oxford University Press.