PHIL 102 – Political Philosophy: Justice
March 19 2014
Political Philosophy: Theory of Justice
Individuals viewed as members of society.
Value at the largest social scale
What makes the organization of a group of people just?
Hobbes: Just organization of the nation state (most philosophers discuss this – large
• Philosophers seek a general, pluralist answer that allows for many variants on a
o Very same people may organize justly in different ways
o Different people may organize justly in different ways
o Different levels of government (different organization in diff countries)
Important variations, doesn’t make it more/less just than others
Just societies look very different to those that are not just
Some are looking at international justice and global justice
Justice as Fairness
John Rawls – Harvard Prof
• Wanted to be a priest
• Served in infantry in Japan
• Went to Hiroshima – shocked and devoted his life to political philosophy
• A Theory of Justice – John Rawls
o Influential piece of work in shaping the societies today
• “Many of our most serious conflicts are conflicts within ourselves. Those who
suppose their judgments are always consistent and…”
Article Pg. 3-4: “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as a truth is of systems of
thought... therefore in a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as
settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the
calculus of social interests.” PHIL 102 – Political Philosophy: Justice
• Should be organized in a way that follows these rights
• Think about making sacrifices for goods for other people. Justice should not
require this! The good that is distributed in a way that is fair.
• None of this should be done by negotiating and valuing social interest
• Justice is fairness elevated to a social level.
Laws and Institutions
• Justice concerns distribution of all social goods
o Economic: income, wealth, and opportunity to gain such
• Through the “basic social structure” the institutions that are main distributors of
benefits and burdens of social life
o Set of institutions that distribute these goods
o i.e. government, legal system (laws, the courts, enforcers), the economy
(how we set it up [banking, employment laws]), the family
• We share some interests because “social cooperation makes possible a better
life for all than any would have if each were to live solely by his own efforts”
o We know that what we have comes from social cooperation
o We would be worse off if we don’t work together
o Importance of government and society
Hobbes: state of nature “nasty, brutish and short”
Social Contracts – John Locke, Rousseau
We benefit from social cooperation!
• But our interests also conflict: “persons are not indifferent to how the greater
benefits produced by their collaboration and distributed for in order to produce
their ends they produce a larger to a lesser share” (Rawls 4) PHIL 102 – Political Philosophy: Justice
o You want a more of your fair share because there are things you want to
do with it
o There are lots of things we can distribute
o We have our own ends and devote resources to our ends, meaning we’re
in competition with each other.
• Theory of Justice: How to manage/ yields public principles that “distribute the
benefits and burdens of social cooperation” (Rawls 4)
o How to distribute the payoffs and costs of cooperation – that would be a
o Good societies – good balance with all these
o Bad – no balance between (some get nothing while others get loads)
Major problem since Hobbes
1. What are the principles?
a. Hard to understand in a systematic way
b. Rawls does this in a systematic way
2. How can we come to know them? Without “political bargaining” or the “calculus
of social interests”?
a. How do we know them?
b. All of this has come from social groups, trade unions etc. happening for a
LONG TIME (centuries)
c. Always been “political bargaining”
d. Results say that it can be really good or really bad! (Rawls)
i. How do we know that?
iii. External relationship
e. Equitable distribution etc.
He begins by looking at how we see them? PHIL 102 – Political Philosophy: Justice
The Original Position:
• Imagine a purely hypothetical “original position” where people are. (Not practical
• Thought experiment – think ourselves into this idea
o Group of people forming a society – they are supposed to be equal. No
one has an advantage that can manipulate the others.
o They are rational agents – give reasons for any proposals that they have.
o They can acknowledge others.
o They can make proposals and argue for their acceptance
• BUT they are behind the veil of ignorance, for they don’t know
o It would skew my thinking if I look at those people
They don’t know what their social status is (Unborn)
They don’t know what life they are born in.
If they know this, knowing you’re an aristocrat – you would be
influenced by your group – a conflict of interests
Bias them. You always want the best for yourself
o Rich/Poor/Race /Natural abilities– biasing factors
o Status, ethnicity, gender, lifespan
o Natural abilities
o Psychological propensities
o Fundamental values.
• Fundamental Argues
• But they know, others are basically traditional
• Facts of social life and human psychology
o Depends of the situation. They can’t have everything that they want,
conflict of interest PHIL 102 – Political Philosophy: Justice
o Most people have less than they want – creating conflict
o Assuming a global would
• There are conditions of moderate scarcity.
Less egalitarian now!
Behind the veil of ignorance
• A society is just if the basic social structure complies with principles that would be
adopted in the original position
• How to see. Throughout history – hold them up to original position.
• Political bargaining has caused our society to come to where it is now.
• Now we should step back and judge the society from original position.
• We should respect others.
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 all
a. Political liberties to vote and tad for office
b. Freedom of speech and assembly
c. Freedom of conscience and thought
d. Freedom of the person and the right to hold property
i. Everyone should have this, exercising liberty and not diminishing
2. Any social and economic inequalities must satisfy 2 conditions
a. If they’re attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of
fair equality of opportunity
i. People who have the money, tend to have the power
ii. You can have more money etc. so long as the power is accessible
b. They benefit the least-advantaged members of society (the difference
principle) PHIL 102 – Political Philosophy: Justice
i. Inequality is fine so long as the people in the bottom are raised
1 takes priority over (2a) then (2b)
Why would people adopt 2b?
Rawls on Justice
Justice and the Origina