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John Rawls Theory Of Justice: A New Approach Towards Development

"Justice, as Rawls envisioned, is the art of fairness molding a world where each person's worth is honored and embraced."...Vishal Banga

Introduction to John Rawl

In his 'A theory of Justice (1971), John Rawls (1921) of Harvard University proposed a general theory of justice. He dealt his theory from the angle of philosophy and political science rather than of law. He did not explain his theory as a theory of Natural Law. But it is based on reason, concerns social justice and purports to be comprehensive. Hence it is naturalistic in conception. He along with Kant is considered rationalist viewing the limits are set by rational principles of justice.

That's how his concept of Justice begun !

He says that society is self-sufficient association of persons. Generally the persons, in their mutual relations, bind themselves by certain rules of conduct specifying a system of cooperation. Some principles of social justice are required for making a rational choice between various available systems. A concept of justice will affect problems of efficiency, coordination and stability. Hence, it is necessary to have a rational concept of justice for the basic structure of society. Practical rationality consists of value, right and moral worth.

The concept of right relates to social systems and institutions, individuals; international relations and priority between principles. The concept of right yields principles of justice and efficiency. He arrives at his theory of justice by grounding his own principles in the exercise of reason in an imaginary 'original position' and certain 'principles of priority'.

Hypothetical rational persons would choose 'fairness' and 'principles of justice' in a hypothetical original position' of equality. Fairness results from reasoned prudence. Principles of justice are dictated by prudence. The insistence on prudence brings in those who are conservatively inclined by excluding gamblers in the original position. The concept of the 'original position' is not a modernised version of the 'social contract', but it is a pure supposition.

People in the 'original position' are assumed to know certain things for example psychology and the social sciences. At the same time a 'veil of ignorance' drops them with regard to certain other things for example the stage of development of their society and their own personal conditions, places in that society, material fortunes etc. Persons should exclude self- interest while choosing the 'Basic Principles of Justice' so as to ensure their generality and validity. A form of justice is needed to benefit everyone that is common good.

The Main Goals of this Theory
The 'Basic Principles of Justice' are generalised means of securing certain generalised wants, 'primary social goods', comprising what is styled the 'thin theory of the good', i.e. maximisation of the minimum. These primary social goods include basic liberties, opportunity, power and a minimum of wealth. According to Rawls, the 'Basic Principles of Justice' are as follows"

Principles of his Theory:

  • The first principle of Justice is: "Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all". The basic liberties include equal liberty of thought and conscience, equal participation in political decision-making and the rule of law which safeguards the person and his self-respect.
  • The second principle is: 'Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both:
    1. To the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, consistent with the just savings principle, and
    2. Attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity

Just Saving Principle of Him
The 'just savings principle' is designed to secure justice between generations and is described as follows: "Each generation must not only preserve the gains of culture and civilisaton, and maintain intact those just institutions that have been established, but it must also put aside in each period of time a suitable amount of real capital accumulation.

That's how he wanted to see the society
With the aid of these principles, Rawls seeks to establish a just basic structure, There has to be a constitutional convention to settle a constitution, for a just and effective order; next comes legislation and lastly the application of rules to particular cases. Rawls says that the Basic Principles will yield a just arrangement of social and economic institutions.

Criticism of his principles
There is some criticism regarding his concept of 'original position'.. One attack has been to question whether his conclusions follow from his 'original position'. For instance, distribution of goods is said to follow need, not merit.

Critic Question:
  • How does the 'original position' yield this? Again, would people in this position necessarily choose liberty?

Answer of him:
In a time of famine, one critic suggests, the need may be food rather than liberty. But, Rawls says elsewhere Liberty is to have priority only after a certain point; It is not easy to see how the balance between liberty and needs follows from the 'original position', Under the restrictions of 'veil of ignorance', people in the state, of nascence could not arrive at any of his conclusions. Although people are supposed to know general psychology and social science, they are ignorant of the state of development of their society, we cannot expect that people in a primitive state of development are supposed to possess the sophisticated psychological and social scientific knowledge of modern people.

Veil of Ignorance
It is pointed out that something is good for the individual does not imply that it will be good for society. Thus, the benefit to an individual of being able to exercise a liberty may be lost to him if it were enjoyed by all. It the Basic Principles do not necessarily follow from the 'original position' their ultimate acceptance must derive from their intrinsic moral appeal rather than reason.

Thus, particular principles may be suitable in an 'original position' of limited knowledge and there is no basis for continuing to impose them later in the changed conditions and fuller knowledge. All this shows that the concept of the original position' and the veil of ignorance' only provide a semblance of justification for reaching certain desired conclusions.

An objection to intuitionism is that it gives no guidance in choosing between conflicting principles. To meet this Rawls offers the 'Principles of Priority'. Such priority is 'lexical' i.e. the first has to be fully satisfied before the second has to be considered.

First Principle of Priority
The first priority rule is the priority of liberty: "liberty can be restricted only for the sake of liberty. He further says:
  1. A less extensive liberty must strengthen the total system of liberty shared by all;
  2. A less than equal liberty must be acceptable to those with the lesser liberty

Principle of Second Priority
The second priority rule is the lexical priority of justice over efficiency and welfare:
  1. An inequality of opportunity must enhance the opportunity of those with the lesser opportunity.
  2. An excessive rate of saving must on balance mitigate the burden of those bearing this hardship".
These principles ensure that as between liberty and need, liberty prevails, as between need and utility, need prevails; and as between liberty and utility, liberty prevails. Rawls says that liberty is to be given priority only after certain basic wants.

Conclusion of his concept of Justice
Rawls says that reason of individual yields principles of (i) natural duties and (ii) fairness. Natural duties include the duty to uphold just institutions, to help in establishing just arrangements, to render mutual aid and respect, not to injure or harm the innocent. The fairness principle gives se to obligations, including promises. The principle of fairness is that one should play one's part as specified by the rules of the institution as long as one accepts its benefits. Civil disobedience is justified when substantial injustice occurs; all other methods of obtaining redress fail and disobedience inflicts no injury on the innocent.

Written By: Vishal Banga,
LLM Student, Guru Nanak Dev University Regional Campus Jalandhar.
Ph no: 8219411908, Email: [email protected]

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