Justice in Society According to Rawls and Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Justice in Society According to Rawls and Hampshire

This is paper contrasting the political philosophies of Rawls and Hampshire according o their views in 'Political liberalism' the Law of Peoples' and 'Justice as Conflict'. 4 sources are given.

Very few alternatives to the prevalent utilitarianism, dominant in most of the Western world, have emerged and made any significant impact. The theories of John Rawls however have made an important contribution to political philosophy and if not unanimously agreed upon they nevertheless have led to a revival in the academic study of political philosophy. His work has provoked debate amongst economists, legal scholars, political scientists, sociologists, and theologians alike. His Theory of Justice and subsequent additions and modifications to this hypothesis in the form of 'Political liberalism' and 'The Law of Peoples' is a comprehensive and detailed proposal that evolved over decades.

The 'Justice as Conflict' theory put forward by another eminent scholar, Stuart Hampshire, is a view that deviates from Rawls' premise. His logically meticulous arguments are persuasive and thought-provoking.

Both views describe systems of political existence which the philosophers deem as ideal. They are both based on concepts of democratic ideals and equality and justice but whereas Rawls sought to adapt his vision to reality by perfecting the opposing 'peoples' Hampshire seeks to formulate ideal 'social institutions that mediate between contending parties.' (Hampshire 2001)

The Theory of Justice was developed by Rawls as he did not agree with the unquestioned consensus in utilitarian systems to forfeit the rights of a minority if it led to a greater good. He put forward his theory according to which a 'just social contract' or system of society is one which forms judgments without the bias of personal interest. (Rawls, 1993) This circumstance according to Rawls would be best achieved from 'behind a veil of ignorance' as to the 'original position' or financial situation, creed, religion, state of health, etc. Of all the individuals involved. (Rawls, 1993)

Rawls' premise was that such a system would lead to society choosing 'justice as fairness'. This would be apparent in the two main ideologies that Rawls felt embodied the 'Principles of Justice'. One was the Liberty Principle that gave each person the most extensive system of rights and freedoms which can be accorded equally to everyone. (Rawls, 1993)Rawls elaborated these basic human freedoms to include those of speech, conscience, peaceful assembly, and due process of law, etc. (Rawls, 1993) Most of them reflected or were actual democratic ideals. According to Rawls these rights were sacrosanct and could not be violated, whatever the situation. (Rawls, 1993) In his original proposal, Rawls, declared that the Liberty Principle was absolute and of greater priority than his second formulated principle, the Difference Principle. (Rawls, 1993)

He recognized the existence of pluralism in society however, and the latter principle allowed for economic and social inequalities as long as they benefited all of society, especially its most disadvantaged members. (Rawls, 1993) He furthermore added to this position by clarifying that all economically and socially privileged positions must be open to all people equally. (Rawls, 1993) Thus unlike the utilitarian position, Rawls was unwilling to allow society the privilege of trampling an individuals basic rights even with the justification of the judgment being for the benefit of a majority. He was not however above agreeing to extra benefits for individuals for the same purpose.

These two principles were supposed to be the basis of the political and economic structure of Rawls' ideal society. In the view of the pluralism or diversity of society however, Rawls had to question whether the success of a social structure based on his two basic principles of justice was feasible. In answering this question Rawls came up with the idea of 'overlapping consensus'- or agreement on justice as fairness between citizens who hold different religious, ethical, and philosophical views. (Rawls, 1993)

This would stem from what Rawls believed was intrinsic to Political Liberalism- 'public reason'. (Rawls, 1993)

He had in his Theory of Justice elaborated a system that encompassed issues of morality and justice generally, but had failed to allow for a political conception of justice. That the two were distinctly different was realized in his book 'Political Liberalism.' (Rawls, 1993) The former, '... includes conceptions of what is of value in human life, as well as ideals of personal virtue and character, that are to inform much of our nonpolitical conduct...." (Rawls, 1993, p.175) whereas the latter, includes the moral context on which to base the structure of a democratic society. Political conception of justice was influenced by the 'public political culture' of the society in question and did not necessarily reflect the general or comprehensive theory or doctrines followed by the people. (Rawls, 1993)

It was the code of behavior people followed in their role as citizens of a structured society as opposed to free individuals. (Rawls, 1993)

In Political liberalism, Rawls outlines a democratic society that advocates his principles of liberty, believing that they and everyone in their social arrangement were equals and as such practiced tolerance and moderation in their attitudes towards their claims on society, how to live, and the existence of God etc. (Rawls, 1993)

In The Law of Peoples, John Rawls extends his argument to explain how nations should understand their moral obligations to each other and to human rights. Rawls did not view the 'peoples' as distinct states, as this would allow them the difference in traditions and culture that were only too real. (Rawls, 1999) He preferred to shape his Law of Peoples in the moral context of individual human beings. (Rawls, 1999)

He once again uses the concept of original position, this time referring to representatives from various countries who while being ignorant of the size, population, military or industrial strength of their country help develop a system that ensures their political independence, civil liberties, and self-respect as a people. (Rawls, 1999)

He outlined their aspirations as being the desire to maintain their independence, observe treaties, not interfere in other people's affairs, use war only for self-defense, honor human rights, restrict the conduct of war, and assist peoples living under conditions which prevent a just social regime. (Rawls, 1999)In formulating this plan Rawls has tried to formulate a theory that is agreeable not only to liberal societies but to non-liberal ones. (Rawls, 1999)

To this end he has described society as being divided into five types of domestic societies. The first two are reasonable liberal peoples and decent peoples, classified together as well-ordered peoples. (Rawls, 1999) Then there are the outlaw states, with corrupt leadership and societies burdened by unfavourable conditions (such as political or economic). (Rawls, 1999) Benevolent absolutisms honour human rights but, because their members are denied a meaningful role in making political decisions, they are not well-ordered. (Rawls, 1999)

Rawls has tried to prove that his concept of justice as fairness is the most compatible one for a democratic state and on an international level. (Rawls, 1999) He argues that through the implementation of 'overlapping consensus', diverse groups and individuals with varying conceptions of justice and morality would accept certain institutional arrangements or authorities in the form of a political conception because this would have been formulated according to their comprehensive view and draw on the religious, philosophical, and moral grounds they adhered too or had compromised equally to accept. (Rawls, 1999)

Rawls expected the implementation of justice and the building of a fair social, political, and economic structure to occur through change in the attitudes and conceptions of society as a whole. His theories depended upon the 'rationality and reasonableness' of human thought and their willingness to compromise towards equality with the encouragement and example of a segment of decent peoples in overcoming the burdens of pluralism. (Rawls, 1999) His concepts agreed with those of Plato who argued that 'justice consists in a harmony of the parts or elements, a harmony imposed by reason.' (Rawls, 1999)

Stuart Hampshire however disagrees as he believes that justice cannot be achieved through harmony and consensus of ideology or conceptions as this is realistically impossible to achieve. (Hampshire 2001) Instead he emphasized the need for evolving judicial procedures that could resolve conflict fairly without the need for brute force or tyranny. (Hampshire 2001) Thus though substantial matters varied according to individual moral outlook and cultural background, fairness in procedure is an invariable value, a constant in human nature.

Hampshire advocated thus that organized pluralistic societies must develop institutions and procedures to adjucate moral conflicts in society ranging from claims about property and status to conflicts of moral ideals and beliefs. (Hampshire 2001) He emphasized the need for a council or cabinet that would debate and formulate policy options. (Hampshire 2001) These would need to be supported by some court of inquiry or commission to review rival causal explanations and to assign responsibility as reasonably as possible. (Hampshire 2001) Amongst all these practical parameters Hampshire maintained that the basic premise on which an ideal and just society was based…

Cite This Term Paper:

"Justice In Society According To Rawls And" (2003, November 23) Retrieved August 22, 2017, from

"Justice In Society According To Rawls And" 23 November 2003. Web.22 August. 2017. <

"Justice In Society According To Rawls And", 23 November 2003, Accessed.22 August. 2017,