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John Rawls & The Theory of Justice

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Mark Thorsby

on 1 December 2014

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Transcript of John Rawls & The Theory of Justice

Social and Political Philosophy
Mark Thorsby
The Principles of Justice
John Rawls
John Rawls

Feb. 21, 1921 - Nov. 24th, 2002
1950 - PhD from Princeton
1955 - Fullbright Fellow to Christ's Church (Oxford University)
Taught at Cornell, MIT, Harvard
1971 - A Theory of Justice

A Brief Review
Is Political Liberalism Bankrupt?
Liberalism = the promotion and protection of individual liberty
Social Contract Theory & Liberalism
Can political liberalism result in

the promotion of freedom given the fragmentation of social power and the demands of a modern market economy?
Power is distributed through social institutions
Power relations operate on the body
Sovereignty vs. Power
The Historical Dialectic
shapes individual consciousness
Political organization is secondary to the greater social dialectic
The Social Contract is an inadequate explanation
Economics is more fundamental than politics
Capitalism materially benefits society
Capitalism requires the alienation of Labor
Capitalism requires material inequity
The Problem:
The Establishment of a political institution via a social contract seems inadequate to promote the liberty f individuals while also promoting equality.
The Social Contract Tradition
(Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau)
The Utilitarian Tradition & The Modern Ethos
John Stuart Mill

"Promote the Greatest Amount of Happiness for the Greatest Amount of People"

Consequentialism = the consequences of an action determine moral status

Question: Is the inequity created by the Capitalism justified consequentially? Or in other words, is an exception to justice for the sake of the material economy justification for social inequity?

What We Need...
We need a principle to establish justice
a) across institutions which
b) can address the problems of social inequity
What does the initial state of social equity look like?
Where to Start...
John Rawls - A Theory of Justice
A Well-Ordered Society
A Society is well-ordered when it is not only designed to advance the good of its members but also effectively regulated by a public coneption of justice.

1) Everyone accepts and knows that the others accept the same principles of justice

2) The basic social institutions generaly satisfy and are generally known to satisfy these principles
Existing Societies are NOT Well-Ordered
There is much disagreement about justice

Modified Conception:
"... institutions are just when no arbitrary distinctions are made between persons in the assigning of basic rights and duties and when the rules determine a proper balance between competing claims to the advantages of social life." (5)
The Original Social Agreement
The Basic Structure Ought to Be Just
What is the guiding Principle of Justice?
Conceptual Constraint = "free & rational persons"
This principle will assign basic rights and duties
Justice as Fairness
The Original Position
Original Position = 'state of nature'

Not Historical
Not primitive
Hypothetical Situation in which no one has knowledge of their:
Class status
Social Position
Material Wealth
Distribution of Assets & resources
Personal Attributes (intelligence, strength, etc.)
The Use of Principles
"The Principles of Justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance" (12)

"Moreover, assuming that the original position does determine a set of principles, it will then be true that whenever social institutions satisfy these principles those engaged in them can say to one another that they are cooperating on terms to which they would agree if they were free and equal persons whose relations with respect to one another were fair." (13)
Method & The Problem of Deliberation
What is the Method?

1) Assume the original position
2) Rational Disinterested Persons (via the veil of ignorance)
3) Determine what principles could be established in the course of procedural deliberation
4) Reflective Equilibrium:
Initial Set Up
Two Principles
"Justice as fairness is not a complete contract theory" (17)

Social Contract Theory be extended as a general moral theory

Justice as Fairness cannot.
The Limits
2 Principles of Justice
1) Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.

2) Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both
(a) reasonably expected to be to everyone's advantage, and
(b) attached to positions and offices open to all
Some Explanation...
A) These principles apply to the basic structure of society

Social Structure can be divided into two ses:
1) Secure and equal liberties of citizenship
= political liberties

2) Those that specify and establish social and economic inequalities
= distribution of income and wealth

B) The First Principle has logical priority

C) "All social values - liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the bases of self-respect - are to distributed equally anless an unequal distribution of any, or all, of these values is to everyone's advantage." (62)
What of Injustice?
"Injustice, then, is simply inequalities that are not to the benefit of all."

BUT... "The situation where someone is considering how to allocate certain commodities to needy persons who are known to him is not within the scope of the principles. They are meant to regulate basic institutional arrangements." (64)
The Veil of Ignorance
Veil of Ignorance means not knowing how specific deliberative alternatives will affect one's own particular case and being obliged to evaluate principles solely on the basis of general considerations. (137)
What is known under the veil of ignorance
Certain Kinds of Facts are Ignored
place in society
class position
social status
distribution of goods
Natural assets and abilities
What is Known
basic features of human social life
understand political affairs
principles of economic theory
basics of social organization, and
human psychology
Concluding Thoughts
The original position is suited for social and political institutions

Some form of regulated Capitalism might be defended as a case where a specific arrangement of social inequalities works to the advantage of all.

But... this would seem to deny a
laissez faire
economic model and support the current system of a regulated economy.
There is no basis for bargaining
whatever the temporal position, each is forced to choose for everyone.
John Rawls: Fifty Years after Hiroshima
Hiroshima: August 6, 1945

30% of City Population Killed
Missed Target & detonated over a Surgical Clinic
80,000 people killed
20,000 were soldiers
70,000 injured
Was Hiroshima a Great Wrong or Was it Justified?
6 Principles Governing the Conduct of War
Principle 1

The Aim of War Waged by a decent democratic society is a just and lasting peace between peoples, especially with its present enemy
6 Principles Governing the Conduct of War
Principle 2

A Decent Democratic Society is fighting against a state that is not democratic.
6 Principles Governing the Conduct of War
Principle 3

A Democratic society must carefully distinguish 3 groups:

1) State Leaders and Officials
2) Soldiers
3) Civiliians

* Principle of Responsibility
6 Principles Governing the Conduct of War
Principle 4

A decent democratic society must respect the human rights of the members of the other side, both civilian and soldiers
Why - 1) They have the rights by law
2) To teach the enemy the content of the rights
6 Principles Governing the Conduct of War
Principle 5

Just peoples by their actions and proclamations are to foreshadow during the war the kind of peace they aim for and the kind of relations they seek between nations.
6 Principles Governing the Conduct of War
Principle 6

Actions and Policies for achieving the aim of war should not cause more harm than good.

*with the exception of extreme crisis
(Utilitarian justification given)
The 4th & 5th principle are binding, especially on the leaders of nations
Leaders vs. Statesmen
What is a Statesman?
The statesman is an ideal
exemplary performance
strength, wisdom, courage
guide the state through turbulent time
The Politician looks to the next election, the statesman looks to the next generation.
Goal of Philosopher:

To look to the permanent conditions and the real interests of a just and good democratic society

Goal of the Statesman

To Discern these consitions and interests in practice; the statesman sees deeper and further than most others and grasps what needs to be done.

Above all they hold fast to the aim of gaining a just peace.
Hiroshima & the Firebombings
The Exemption of Extreme Crisis
Did Hiroshima or Nagasaki Qualify as an Extreme Crisis such that the Principles for Just War could be Suspended?
During the period before the US entered the war and Great Britain was all alone, that qualifies as an extreme crisis.

Britain could have justified bombing Berlin directly
The Bomb was dropped to hasten the end of the war

In addition, more US soldiers would survive the war

In their calculations, the lives of Japanese soldiers and civilians presumably counted for less than American lives.

The Bomb would force the emperor to accept an unconditional surrender and save face

The Bomb was also dropped for geo-strategic reasons regarding the Russian advance towards Japan
Extreme Crisis = Immanent Existential Threat

The US/Japanese Pacific War Never constituted an Extreme Crisis
Great Evils & War Crimes
The Leaders had an obligation NOT to use firebombing and nuclear weapons
The Allied Leaders had an obligation to enter into negotiations with the Japanese before any drastic steps such as the dire-bombing or cities or the bombing of Hiroshima were taken.
On June 26, 1945 the Japanese government was ordered by the Emperor to seek a negotiated end to the war, just weeks prior to the nuclear attack.
President Harry Truman was NOT a statesman.
Avoding the nihiliisms of War
Nihilism 1.

War is Hell = All is permitted in war
Nihilism 2.

Since all are guilty, we are not responsible
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