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PHIL 348 - Rawls: Justice as Fairness.doc

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McGill University
PHIL 348
Storrs Mc Call

Justice as Fairness “The fundamental idea in the concept of justice is fairness” (162). “I consider justice only as a virtue of social institutions, or what I shall call practices” (162). “Justice is not to be confused with an all-inclusive vision of a good society; it is only one part of any such conception” (162). Justice = “the elimination of arbitrary distinctions and the establishment, within the structure of a practice, of a proper balance between competing claims” (162). Two principles: 1) “Each person participating in a practice, or affected by it, has an equal right to the most extensive liberty compatible with a like liberty for all” (162). 2) “Inequalities are arbitrary unless it is reasonable to expect that they will work out for everyone's advantage, and provided the positions and offices to which they attach, or from which they may be gained, are open to all” (163). These principles express justice “as a complex of three ideas, liberty, equality, and reward for services contributing to the common good” (163). The first principle is thus limited by the second one. The first holds “only if other things are equal: That is, while there must always be a justification for departing from the initial position of equal liberty ... nevertheless, there can be, and often there is, a justification for doing so” (163). Equal liberty is “defined by the pattern of rights and duties, powers and liabilities, established by a practice” (163). “That similar particular cases, as defined by a practice, should be treated similarly as they arise, is part of the very concept of a practice.... The first principle expresses an analogous conception, but as applied to the structure of practices themselves.... The second principle defines how this presumption may be rebutted” (163). The reason for having this qualification is this: if “a greater liberty were possible for all without loss or conflict, then it would be irrational to settle on a lesser liberty” (163). This is “the concept of the greatest equal liberty” (163). “By inequalities it is best to understand not any differences between offices and positions, but differences in the benefits and burdens attached to them either directly or indirectly” (163). After all, the former type of difference is not usually objectionable. Here, Rawls uses the example of how we distinguish between batter, pitcher, catcher, etc. in baseball (163). “The second principle holds that an inequality is allowed only if there is reason to believe that the practice with the inequality, or resulting in it, will work for the advantage of every party engaging in it.... It is important to stress that every party must gain from the inequality” (163). “The principle excludes, therefore, the justification of inequalities on the grounds that the disadvantages of those in one position are outweighed by the greater advantages of those in another position,” contra utilitarianism (163). Thus, it is “a restriction of consequence” (163). “It is also necessary that the various offices to which special benefits or burdens attach are open to all” (163). “Any offices having special benefits must be won in a fair competition in which contestants are judged on their merits” (164). The Procedure “One might try to derive [these principles] from a priori principles of reason.... I wish ... to look at the principles in a different way” (164). Imagine a society with the following characteristics: − mutually self-interested − does not have to be individual-level; thus, this presumption is still compatible with ties of sentiments that one may have for family, etc. − does not have to be self-interested in all circumstances, just usual, common ones − have complementary and similar needs − this facilitates fruitful cooperation − equal in power and ability − this to guarantee nondomination − are rational − know own interests accurately − capable of tracing out likely consequences of adopting one practice over another − capable of adhering to a course of action upon decision − resist temptations and enticements of immediate gain − not greatly dissatisfied with knowledge of inequality “A rational man would not be greatly downcast from knowing, or seeing, that others are in a better position than himself, unless he thought their being so was the result of injustice” (164). “We can imagine from time to time they discuss with one another whether any of them has a legitimate complaint against their established institutions” (164). “They first try to arrive at the principles by which complaints, and so practices themselves, are to be judged. Their procedure for this is to let each person propose the principles upon which he wishes his complaints to be tried with the understanding that, if acknowledged, the complaints of others will be similarly tried, and that no complaints will be heard at all until everyone is roughly to one mind as to how complaints are to be judged. They each understand further that the principles proposed and acknowledged on this occasion are binding on future occasions. Thus each will be wary of proposing a principle which would give him a peculiar advantage, in his present circumstances” (165) “The idea is that everyone should be required to make in advance a firm commitment, which others also may reasonably be expected to make, and that no one be given the opportunity to tailor the canons of a legitimate complaint to fit his own special condition” (165). The resulting “principles will express the conditions in accordance with which each is the least unwilling to have his interests limited in the design of practices, given the competing interests of the others, on the supposition that the interests of others will be limited likewise. The restrictions which would so arise might be thought of as those a person would keep in mind if he were designing a practice in which his enemy were to assign him his place” (165) “The procedure whereby principles are proposed and acknowledged represents constraints, analogous to those of having a morality, whereby rational and mutually self-interested persons are brought to act reasonably” (165). “Given all these conditions as described, it would be natural if the two principles of justice were to be acknowledged. Since there is no way of anyone to win special advantages for himself, each might consider it reasonable to acknowledge equality as an initial principle. There is, however, no reason why they should regard this position as final.... If, as is quite likely, these inequalities work as incentives to draw out better efforts, the members of this society may look upon them as concessions to human nature” (165). “The relations of mutual self-interest [among] the parties who are similarly circumstanced mirror the conditions under which questions of justice arise” (166). This exercise is hypothetical. Clarifications Rawls' theory of justice is related to the view of justice as “a pact between rational egoists the stability of which is dependent on a balance of power and a similarity of circumstances” (166), or game theory—but it is different in key ways. 1) Not making claims about human nature That the actors in the exercise are self-interested are taken for granted. This is because “justice is the virtue of practices where there are assumed to be competing interests and conflicting claims and where it is supposed that persons will press their rights on each other” (166). 2) Not traditional social contract Parties do not establish any particular society or practice, certainly not a constitution. “What the parties do is to jointly acknowledge certain principles of appraisal relating to their common practices either as already established
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