Saturday, December 30, 2017

Rawls: Justice as Fairness - summary

Rawls's theory of justice: core ideas are justice as fairness, the original position and the veil of ignorance. To find out the fair principles of justice, think about what principles would be chosen by people who do not know how they are going to be affected by them - thought experiment. What then emerges is the content of a hypothetical contract. Veil of ignorance ensures no one is biased in the choice of principles. People don't know their talents & social position, or their conception of the good. They DO have the capacity to frame, revise and pursue a conception of the good. For this capacity, they need all-purpose goods, aka primary goods: liberties, opportunities, powers, income and wealth, self-respect.
Then, the original position is a device of representation. Rawls thinks that is models fair conditions under which people solely regarded as free and equal are to agree on 'fair terms of social co-operation'. What distributive principles would you have reason to endorse if you didn't know who you were, thereby thinking of yourself and your fellow citizens as equals.
The PRINCIPLES Rawls thinks people will choose are:
1.       Equal basic liberties: Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all
2.       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, with (b) more important than (a)
SO: everyone will have the same set of basic rights. Then, if there are social and economic inequalities, all citizens have equal opportunity in the process by which they come to achieve and avoid the unequally rewarded positions. Inequalities are only allowed if they maximise the position of the worst-off members of society.

Critics on Rawls/confusing aspects:
-Rawls thinks people will behave risk-averse, concerned to make the worst-off position as good as possible, to maximin. Is this actually true? Wouldn't people try to maximise the average position? Rawls' answer: strain of commitment, if the difference principle is in action, those at the bottom of the pile know that the rules will ensure that they are as well of as they could be.  Critics: problem is that one could accept that the worst off are as well off as they can be, without accepting she should be the worst off.
-Rawls prioritizes on liberty, thus people will not be prepared to trade off the basic liberties for the sake of economic gain. Critics: if the choice were liberty or food, we would all choose food. Rawls' answer: everybody in society has reached a certain threshold of economic well-being. Critics: then how universally does the theory apply?
-Rawls thinks inequalities will maximise the position of the worst off, as people need incentives for their motivation to work in those activities where they will be useful for everybody else. FE doctors may want to be poets, but remain doctors because of the money. Some people then think that there is no reason to worry about inequality at all. HOWEVER, Rawls's principle states that inequalities are ONLY justified if they maximise the position of the worst off. Strict principle, what matters is whether the worst off are as well off as they could be, NOT whether they are better off than they might have been.
-Rawls mentions the 'worst off', but who is that? Rawls measures this by seeing how many primary goods someone has. Critics: this pays no attention to HOW those with the least ended up there. Were they lazy? Then they would deserve it. Rawls' answer: Leisure could be included in the primary goods.
-Rawls: hypothetical contracts show what people will go along with. Critics: these contracts have no binding force. BUT this misunderstands Rawls, he meant for them to represent what we WOULD HAVE agreed to under appropriate conditions.
-Another confusion on contracts: people do agree out for their own interests, but this doesn't make them egoistic. People see society as a fair scheme of co-operation, and want to treat fellow citizens fairly, and regard them as free and equal. The veil of ignorance ensures people will choose principles by looking out for themselves, after they have been deprived of the info that might enable them to look out for themselves.