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  1. 1. Justice in its broadest context, includes both the attainment of that which is just and the philosophical discussion of that which is just. The concept of justice is based on numerous fields, and many differing viewpoints and perspectives including the concepts of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, religion, equity and fairness. Often, the general discussion of justice is divided into the realm of social justice as found in philosophy, theology and religion, and, procedural justice as found in the study and application of the law. For Plato, justice is a virtue establishing rational order, with each part performing its appropriate role and not interfering with the proper functioning of other parts. Aristotle says justice consists in what is lawful and fair, with fairness involving equitable distributions and the correction of what is inequitable. For Augustine, the cardinal virtue of justice requires that we try to give all people their due; for Aquinas, justice is that rational mean between opposite sorts of injustice, involving proportional distributions and reciprocal transactions. Hobbes believed justice is an artificial virtue, necessary for civil society, a function of the voluntary agreements of the social contract; for Hume, justice essentially serves public utility by protecting property (broadly understood). For Kant, it is a virtue whereby we respect others’ freedom, autonomy, and dignity by not interfering with their voluntary actions, so long as those do not violate others’ rights; Mill said justice is a collective name for the most important social utilities, which are conducive to fostering and protecting human liberty. Rawls analyzed justice in terms of maximum equal liberty regarding basic rights and duties for all members of society, with socio-economic inequalities requiring moral justification in terms of equal opportunity and beneficial results for all; and various post-Rawlsian philosophers develop alternative conceptions. The General Theory in Rawls’ Theory of Justice says that all social primary goods(liberty, income, wealth, opportunity) should be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution benefits the least advantaged section of the society. Inequalities will be allowed if they improve one’s initial equal share and would not be allowed if they invade one’s fair share. His theory is also arranged in ‘lexical priority’, which means there exists a system of priority among the different elements. First Principle Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all. This means each man will have the right to liberty and he will share this right with all other fellow beings.
  2. 2. Second Principle Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both: a) To the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, and b) Attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity. There exists two priority rules along with these principles: First Priority Rule (The priority of liberty) The principles of justice are to be ranked in lexical order and therefore liberty can be restricted only for the sake of liberty. Second Priority Rule (The priority of justice over efficiency and welfare) The second principle of justice is lexically prior to the principle of efficiency and to that of maximizing the sum of advantages and fair opportunity is prior to the difference principle. Rawls has two arguments for his principle of justice: a) Distributive Justice, the ideal of equality of opportunity b) The concept of Social Contract Distributive Justice According to this principle, inequalities in wealth and prestige are justified as long as an equal opportunity was provided to all in attaining these inequalities and no discrimination had been made in terms of race, sex, social background. These inequalities are just even if they don’t benefit the least advantaged section. Rawls doesn’t completely agree with this. He says that equal opportunity should be provided to all but under the difference principle, people can have a claim to a greater share of resources only if they can show that it benefits those who have lesser shares. Rawls also makes a distinction between choice and circumstances. According to him inequalities are unjust when they happen because of one’s social background,
  3. 3. creed, place of birth etc. These are something which people have no control over, these are circumstances and thus unjustified. But he says that inequalities arising from one’s choice are just. If a person irrespective of his circumstances works very hard and achieves a lot of wealth, status and prestige compared to another person who does nothing to achieve these benefits then this kind of inequality is justified. Although he calls social inequality unjust, he doesn’t provide room for natural inequalities i.e natural disabilities. A person having a natural disability cannot be at par with a person who is absolutely normal but Rawls doesn’t make any distinction between the two. This is the point where he has been criticised the most. Social Contract The idea of social contract seems either historically absurd or morally insignificant. Dworkin says that the contract isn’t primarily an agreement actual or hypothetical but a device for teasing out the implications of certain moral premises concerning people’s moral equality. We invoke the idea of the state of nature not to work out the historical origins of the society or the historical obligations of the government and the individuals but to model the idea of the moral equality of individuals. Rawls talks about the ‘original position’ and the ‘ veil of ignorance’. While Rawls’ original position corresponds to the ideal of state of nature, it also differs from it. For he believes that the usual state of nature isn’t an initial position of equality because some people have more bargaining powers over others, more physical strength, more talents etc. So a new device is needed to tease out the implications of moral equality, a device that prevents people from exploiting their arbitrary advantages in the selection of the principles of justice and thus he provides a revised version of original position. Here all the people are behind the veil of ignorance and they are faceless anonymous individuals who are unaware of their position which they would occupy in the society, their talents, their status, abilities, intelligence. From behind the veil of ignorance these individuals would select the principles of justice. The rationale behind this idea is that when people are unaware of their social positions and their abilities they would select such principles which would be beneficial for all the members of the society so that even if a person occupies the worst off position in the society, the principles would do justice to him. These individuals would follow the ‘maximin strategy’ which means one would maximise what one would get even if they are occupying the worst off position. Rawls has often been criticised for rigging the original position so that the difference principle is chosen by the individuals and he in fact accepts this charge against him.
  4. 4. CRITICISMS There are 5 main criticisms made against Rawls’ theory of Justice, they are as follows: Logical Problems Capability and Scope Critique Marxist critique Communitarian Critique Subsidising Costly Choices 1. Logical Problems Rawls claims that his theory of justice is a universal theory which isn’t true because he has been influenced by affluent societies and ethnocentrism. His theory mainly represents the Western European countries and North America. His conception also reflects a western liberal conception of justice. He totally ignores the third world countries where half of the population is below poverty line thus his individual isn’t universal in the truest sense. Critics say that there is only one kind of individual who value liberty before anything else and those are the ones who belong to these first world countries and whose basic needs and survival are guaranteed. So when Rawls thinks about the two principles he considers them from a point of view of the western liberal society. 2. Capability and Scope Critique This critique has been developed by Amartya Sen. He published his own theory of justice and mentioned two major points against the theory of Rawls. According to Sen, Rawls uses two criteria to define the political which is the subject matter and it can be any institution which is a part of it or it can be taken as an example of Constitutional Democracy. Any political system becomes a system of justice provided it is committed to toleration. But Sen says that by that specification the scope of the theory becomes limited and it also becomes incapable of being applied to a large number of cases because most of the countries did not have a constitutional democracy. Any political institution or practice which does not commit to the principle of toleration cannot enjoy the question of justice which means countries not having a constitutional democracy will not be able to enjoy justice. The second criticism is the Capability Critique. This has been mentioned earlier that Rawls judges a person’s position by the social primary goods and rejects the natural talents. Sen says that equal amount of social primary
  5. 5. goods does not convert into equal freedom because goods are converted to freedom through capabilities and the less capable here are the physically challenged who do not have the capability to convert these goods into freedom in the same way normal individuals do. There are two variations: Inter means variation Inter end variation Rawls shows remarkable sensitivity to inter end variations but completely rejects inter means variations. 3. Marxist Critique There are two parts of this critique. The first part of the critique says that Marxists believed that all inequalities are unjust and criticised Rawls because he justifies fair inequalities. The second part of the critique is developed by C.B.Macpherson who said that the liberty principle and the difference principle are contradictory from a Marxian point of view. Those with more liberty will interfere with liberty of the rest. Rawls is in fact aware of this and so he allows the transfer of resources from the rich to the poor. But in case of the difference principle, this transfer cannot happen beyond a certain point because it will interfere with the dynamism of the economy. Thus the two principles are opposed to each other because the liberty principle demands continuous transfer and the difference principle demands productivity. 4. Communitarian Critique Communitarian criticism focuses on whether people in the original position would be able to choose anything at all. This is because the asocial, atomistic, solitary ,self seeking free and equal person in the original position is so abstracted that is difficult for them to choose the principles of justice or if their choices will be relevant to the actual social context. Sandel says that Rawls relies on the metaphysical concept of the self which makes no sense. A person devoid of interests, values, desires, conception of good is incapable of deliberation and choice. Waltzer asks why we should take any notice of the conclusions of the people in the original position which is just an imaginary construction of Rawls who is the only actual participant in the perfect meeting. He too believes that the principles chosen from the original position wouldn’t be relevant to the actual society. Woolf argues even if the people in the original position could choose, the veil of ignorance abstracts from all that is human and social therefore it is hard to see how it could be relevant to the people in actual societies.
  6. 6. Rawls has been criticised by feminists as well. They say the model of the self interested, individualistic, rational, autonomous man in the original position does not allow for the nurturing, cooperative, empathetic female qualities. Moreover it is clear that the party to the contract are men who are the heads of households therefore no representation of women is offered in the original position. 5. Subsidizing Costly Choices This argument can be best explained with an example. Let’s take the case of a tennis player and a gardener. Both belong to the same social background, they have equal natural talents and they are even given equal amount of resources. The gardener works really hard on his farm and earns a lot of money by selling fruits and vegetables whereas the player does occasional farming and works only as much as it would let him buy a tennis court. Therefore his earning is less compared to the gardener and now this would not make him at par with the gardener in terms of wealth. Not according to Rawls difference principle, inequality in benefits would be justified only when it benefits the least advantaged which here is the player so following this argument, the state should transfer some of the wealth of the gardener to the player in order to equalise the income but the problem is, this inequality happened because of choice, and not circumstances so here lies the drawback in Rawls theory i.e when inequalities in income are a result of choices and not circumstances then the difference principle creates rather than removes unfairness. The Libertarian makes a point that Rawls’ theory doesn’t allow maximum moral autonomy. They say that while he is justified in saying that talents are undeserved, this doesn’t mean that the undeserved talent becomes a collective asset. The least advantaged cannot veto a talented individual’s choice. Philosopher Allan Bloom, a student of Leo Strauss, criticized Rawls for failing to account for the existence of natural right in his theory of justice, and wrote that Rawls absolutizes social union as the ultimate goal which would conventionalize everything into artifice.[15] Other criticisms of Rawls' theory have come from the philosopher Gerald Cohen. Cohen's series of influential papers culminated first in his book, If You're An Egalitarian, How Come You're So Rich?[16] and then in his later work, Rescuing Justice and Equality. Cohen's criticisms are levelled against Rawls' avowal of inequality under the difference principle, against his application of the principle only to social institutions, and against Rawlsian obsession with the using primary goods as his currency of equality.
  7. 7. John Rawls has provided an explicit theory which has so far been considered as the most important theory of justice till date but one question arises in the minds of the readers i.e if this theory can be applicable in the real society or not. Some parts of his theory like the equal distribution of social primary goods unless an unequal distribution benefits the least well off and equal opportunity principle are very practical and very useful in the present day scenario. In fact these principles have been applied to most societies as well even in India where the system of reservation has been provided in government services and even in educational institutes for the backward classes because of the economic and social exploitations they had experienced in the past which have put them in a disadvantaged position. However these reservations have been helping these backward classes to be at par with the people from the general categories. Other parts of his theory especially the concept of individuals being faceless anonymous people choosing the principles of justice behind the veil of ignorance in the original position is utopian. Rawls has also been criticised by many on this point and these criticisms are valid too because in real life this kind of scenario cannot exist. It is absolutely impossible because people can never exist without any interest or values of their own. Nevertheless, his theory is one of the best theories of justice because the ways in which justice can be attained according to him is commendable and though some of the aspects of his theory are not practical but they are surely ideal and desirable and if ever the original position along with the veil of ignorance is created and principles of justice are chosen from behind the veil in the real society then that would be one of the greatest achievements of human civilisations.
  8. 8. REFERENCES 1. A Theory of Justice By John Rawls This book is a revised edition of a theory of justice published in 1971 by Harvard University Press. Sixth printing,2003, pp. 3-19 2. Rawls, Political Liberalism (expanded edition), pp. 22-28, and esp. pp. 25-27 3. Rawls, Justice as Fairness: a Restatement, p. 97 4. Amartya Sen (2009). The Idea of Justice. Belknap Press (Harvard University Press). pp. 52–74 5. Thomas Nagel, Rawls on Justice, The Philosophical Review, Vol. 82, No. 2. (Apr., 1973) 6. Amartya Sen, Inequality Re-examined, Oxford University Press, New Delhi. pp. 75-80 7. Maureen Ramsey, What’s Wrong with Liberalism, London, 1997. pp. 111-125


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