John Rawls Mencious and Naturalism Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

John Rawls / Mencius

John Rawls's A Theory of Justice is concerned with distributive rather than retributive justice: there is precious little discussion of crime and punishment in Rawls's magnum opus, but plenty of discussion about equality and fairness. Rawls seems to be embarked on a Kantian ethical project of establishing universal principles, but his chief concern is to establish his principles without requiring, as Kant does, an appeal to God as the ultimate guarantor of the moral necessity of his conclusions. In place of God, Rawls offers a thought experiment, which he calls the "Original Position." The reader is asked to imagine himself or herself before birth, being offered a comprehensive survey of the different types of lives into which he or she could potentially be born. Rawls wants the reader to consider whether the available permissible options in a given society are, in themselves, an existing critique of the social order. The basic idea here is that all possible human lives would be surveyed from behind a "veil of ignorance" regarding which of these lives would end up belonging to the reader -- Rawls deem as unjust, or very least "unfair," any possible outcome that we would not approve from behind the "veil of ignorance."

Rawls ends up positing two basic principles as to how to establish a system of fairness. The first is the Liberty Principle, which states that individuals all have equal rights to what he terms "basic" liberties -- but in his reckoning these liberties would include such things as a house. The basic idea here is what would constitute the adequate conditions for human life, as viewed from behind the veil of ignorance. The Equality Principle is Rawls's second rule of thumb, and it argues essentially for redistribution. Rawls' view of equality here is such that society is obliged to reorganize itself to offer the greatest benefit to the worst-off members of society -- those whose lives we, as rational actors, would never agree to inhabit. This includes an equal access to fair opportunity, which in a sense if Rawls's chief objection to libertarianism. (Libertarians, by contrast, are likely to see Rawls as excessively statist, with a highfalutin justification for a social and economic order which is somewhere between that envisioned by Franklin Roosevelt and that envisioned by Jesus Christ.) But Rawls is not a classic liberal, as witnessed by his critique of meritocracy as well: his argument against meritocracy is again based on the principle of guaranteeing equal access to fair opportunity. For Rawls, natural talents and qualifications are, in themselves, not distributed in any morally meaningful fashion: they might as well be random. It is worth noting also that Rawls considers meritocracy just a chance to continue redistributing in favor of the smaller elite. It is also worth noting…

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