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
“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).
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”
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
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
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).
“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,
− 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
− 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.
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
“What the parties do is to jointly acknowledge certain principles of appraisal
relating to their common practices either as already established