In politics conflicts between proposals for universal, egalitarian welfare
systems and demands for more individual freedoms frequently arise. Rawls theory
of justice aims to address these conflicts using the three important methods.
John Rawl assumed some features of a free society and some ideas on how a
certain society and people within should be studied.
Rawl also thinks that people who believe in different ideologies could agree
with some sort of principles to resolve conflicts of distributional effects of
social institutions. The second method is to emphasize on the contract theory of
political philosophy, where he says consent is necessary for the state to
exercise their legitimate power.
The third method is that Rawl outlines a few principles for a civilized society
that everyone should embrace. The main concept of these principles is that civil
and political rights must be safeguarded and all the individuals must be given
equal opportunity. The distribution of economic benefits under this approach
place a definite emphasis on the socioeconomic group who are underprivileged.
Rawl also stated that justice as fairness is preferable to utilitarianism, which
is the dominant school of modern political philosophy.
Rawls theory of justice is also a substitute to utilitarianism as most of the
principles stated by Rawl focus on promoting the greatest happiness of the
greatest number of people as the guiding principle. Rawl wanted to organize a
society in which everyone has as much freedom as possible while making sure that
no individual's freedom infringes on that of others.
In contrast to an equal distribution, Rawl also provided economic and social
disparities, with the condition that this arrangement should aid the most
disadvantaged in becoming better off in society. Lastly Rawl believed that the
goal behind such inequality should be to help those without resources to get a
position of power in the public domain.
Using a hypothetical idea of original position, Rawl elaborates on his views on
justice. The original position has certain characteristics with social contract
theory in terms of how nature is. When members of a society are in their
original positions, it is assumed that the parties are unaware of their
conceptions of the goal or their unique psychological characteristics. This idea
holds all individuals within a society in this "hypothetical device" known as
the original position. Rawl referred to that as keeping individuals behind a
veil of ignorance.
Veil of ignorance assumes that people do not know or they become ignorant of
themselves in matters of their social standing, for instance they would not know
if they are rich or poor, young or old, class and position etc. People who are
behind this veil are unaware of how their fortune will be determined by the
allocation of their natural resources and skills. But Rawl thinks in a society
this philosophy would help in preventing advantages from being adjusted to one's
Which then results in the distribution of benefits that are equitable to
everyone because, if a person does not know how he will function in his own
imagined society, he is unlikely to favor or grant privilege to any one class of
people but, rather, will develop a justice system that treats everyone equally.
In Rawls opinion this would result in maximizing the advantages for the least
advantaged members of society. For this social contract to be just the people of
a society need to make the ruler based on everyone being in the same starting
position, instead of assuming the outcome will be in a certain way and so
allowing the ruler to benefit the poor more greatly.
Two guiding principles stated by John Rawl are:
- First principle; "Each person has the same indefeasible claim to a fully
adequate scheme of equal basic liberties, which scheme is compatible with
the same scheme of liberties for all"
- Second Principle: "Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two
- They are to be attached to offices and positions open to all under
conditions of fair equality of opportunity;
- They are to be to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members
The first principle guarantees as much liberty as possible to individuals as
long as their freedom does not hinder the fundamental liberty of others, they
should be free to act as they choose.
The second principle has two parts, the first part explains that we can
have economic and class differences even if the most disadvantaged individuals
in a society are benefited in some way. The second part explains that socio
economic inequalities must be such that everyone has a fair and equal
opportunity of obtaining them.
Rawls theory of justice has influenced a lot of current political states and the
way they function. India is one among the countries that have been influenced by
Rawls theory of justice, India too also has similar aims to safeguard and
provide justice for all. The values of justice, liberty, equality, and
fraternity were appropriately included into the Constitution of India's
provisions starting with the preamble, basic rights, guiding principles of state
policy, and other sections as well while considering the needs of the future
Strating with the preamble of the Constitution, preamble too lays down key
principles of the constiution. India is said to pursue social, economic, and
political justice among other things to guarantee equality for all of its
residents. In this context, the term "justice" refers to the lack of arbitrary
behaviour, the significance of the rule of law, and a framework that guarantees
everyone in Indian society the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities. vii The
preamble's principles of justice serve as the basic foundation of John Rawls'
theory of justice.
The articles of the constitution has also influenced Rawls theory of justice. In
accordance with Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, everyone living on Indian
soil has the same access to legal protection. It ensures equality for all
people, including locals, businesses, and travelers. One of the positive ideas
of equality is the equal protection of the laws. It places a positive duty on
the state to stop rights violations.
Socioeconomic changes can do this. Since everyone has access to justice,
equality before the law is viewed as the converse of equality. The right to
equality also stops the state from acting arbitrarily. This article opposes the
idea of arbitrariness and states the equal protection of the laws. Every
governmental body is subject to a number of limitations to prevent arbitrary
action. To stop the state's organs from making arbitrary decisions, this is a
The term equality therefore refers to both social and economic equality. This
social and economic fairness should be upheld by the state at their own costs.
The socially disadvantaged members of society must get special attention in
order to put them on level with the privileged members of society in order to
attain equality. With his difference principle, John Rawls aims to do just this.
According to Article 15 "the state is not allowed to discriminate against any of
its citizens on the basis of their race, religion, caste, sex, or place of
birth. Article 16 of the Indian Constitution ensures equal opportunity to all
citizens and forbids discrimination based on religion, race, caste, sex,
descent, place of birth, place of residence, or any combination of these with
respect to employment in the public sector." Additionally, it allows for the
reserving of state services in favour of the underprivileged group of residents.
'Discrimination against any of India's citizens on the basis of their race,
caste, sex, religion, or place of birth is prohibited' according to Article 15
of the Indian constitution. 'All Indian citizens have an equal opportunity to
work in the public sector' and Article 16 of the Indian Constitution and ensures
that there is no discrimination based on race, sex, caste, religion, or place of
birth. Additionally, Article 16 contains a clause that reserves governmental
services for the benefit of the underprivileged segment of people.
As a result, it may be claimed that articles 15 and 16 are in line with John
Rawls' theory of justice, which holds that arbitrary elements like one's caste,
creed, race, or other characteristics should not affect one's chances of
obtaining anything greater than what he or she was born with.
However, he stresses giving those who are below average preferential treatment
to bring them up to the average, to attain equality in genuine sense, and calls
it positive inequality in order to maximise the advantages for the least
fortunate members of society. Article 21 of the Indian constitution provides
that "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except
according to procedure established by law."
It has a much broader definition that covers the right to a decent life, a means
of subsistence, a right to health, etc. These rights are exclusively available
to everyone on the basis of being born as a human being, without any favouritism
or discrimination. This Article enshrines the fundamental principles of
equality, where basic human rights are accorded to everybody on the sole
presumption that they are all born as humans. John Rawls similarly imagines a
world where everyone is treated fairly and equally.
Despite the fact that Rawls' book "A Theory of Justice" was written before the
Indian Constitution was drafted. In order to strike a balance for the
Empowerment of Justice for All, our Constitution places women, Scheduled Tribes,
Scheduled Class, and many other underrepresented groups of society on an equal
footing with Rawls' theory of justice.
List of References:
- John Rawls, a Theory of Justice, edited by Otfried H�ffe, BRILL, 2013.
- The Lovett, Frank. Rawls's 'a Theory of Justice' : A Reader's Guide,
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2011.
- Rawls John, A Theory of Justice : Original Edition, 1971
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy