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:
−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
−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).