Through the egalitarian reasoning of John Rawls and the act-utilitarianist perspective of J. J. C. Smart, I will analyze the concept of justice. In accordance with Rawls, I intend to argue that any changes in society that will increase the burden carried by the poorest 5% are unjust, even if these changes increase the average level of happiness for the other 95%. With regard to ethics, justice is defined as fairness, where all situations should be treated alike. For one to exhibit justice, one must portray the quality of being fair and reasonable in all situations.
While egalitarians evaluate justice based on equality, utilitarians are only interested in justice as a means to an end. Smart advocates the principle of utility, which defines the morally action as whatever produces the greatest net happiness for everyone affected by that act. To identify an act as ? just,’ Rawls employs the theory of justice as fairness. This theory stresses the principle of equal rights, and that an act is ? just’ if equality is realized by everyone affected by the act.
Before delving into John Rawls’ views on a ? just’ society it is essential to understand his perception of the role of justice in society, as described in his book A Theory of Justice. Justice in society enforces individual’s rights and to “[deny] that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others”. When the notion of justice becomes shared by all citizens, and equality is achieved, civility between members of society will restrict the use of some individuals as means to personal ends.
Overall, Rawls argues that the most distinctive role of justice in society is to equally distribute rights and duties to individuals. The underlying egalitarian viewpoint is that individuals do not possess any characteristics that would “justify inequalities in the distribution of social benefits and burdens”. The principles of justice, as depicted in Rawls book, are chosen by individuals an initial position of equality. These principles can be applied to solve structural issues in society such as the distribution of social and economic advantages, the distribution of basic rights and duties to citizens.
Rawls argues that in order for the principles of justice to establish an ideal society, where equality between citizens is realized, several hypothetical conditions must be in place. These conditions include the original position, the veil of ignorance, and the two basic principles of justice. Rawls concept of ? justice as fairness’ summarizes how equality between individuals in the original position allows the “principles of justice are agreed to in an initial situation that is fair”.
In this “initial position of equality” citizens lack all knowledge of personal issues, and their social and economic status. The equality achieved by the original position ensures that citizens act behind a ? veil of ignorance’ when choosing the principles of justice. The ? veil of ignorance’ and the maxamin rule ensure that the choice of principles is not advantageous to some, and detrimental to others. Once under the veil of ignorance, citizens use the maxamin rule when choosing principles to base their society on.
This rule captures the idea that since all citizens are oblivious to their position in the world, they must be prepared to fulfill any role. Therefore, we can conclude that each person will decide on a society where the least fortunate individuals are in the best situation possible. Through the original position, we are able to see the creation of justice. There are two basic principles of justice that Rawls believes would be agreed to by individuals in the ? original position’. The first principle encapsulates the concept liberty, where each individual should be guaranteed as much liberty as the next individual.
The second principle maintains that “social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and attached to positions and offices open to all”. Rawls emphasizes the logical ordering of the principles, where the first takes precedence over the second, which prevents the justification for violating civil liberties in the attempt to gain social or economic advantages. The two parts of the second principle are ? the difference principle’ and ? the principle of fair equality of opportunity.
‘ The difference principle makes justifications for inequalities as long the situation of everyone affected is improved. Equality of opportunity refers to “the distribution of income and wealth and to the design of organizations that make use of difference in authority”. As with the difference principle, inequalities in wealth, power, and status are permitted, as long as the advantages produced by the inequities benefit everyone. The ordering of the second principle implies that defiance of equality of opportunity cannot be rationalized by the possibility of economic or social advantages.
The ideas set forth by Rawls influential book A Theory of Justice received considerable praise and attention from the scholastic community. As with all publications, Rawls’ work has been critiqued by other philosophers. The most prominent objection to Rawls’ concept of justice, and the only area I would criticize, is the difference principle. As a libertarian, Robert Nozick offers one of the most renowned arguments against difference principle. Nozick argued in his book Anarchy, State and Utopia that equality through fair distribution will indefinitely intrude on civilian liberty.
If a beneficial asset has been acquired through legitimate means, then according to Nozick, the redistribution of set asset would be in violation of justice. While I agree with the value Nozick places on civil rights, I feel that the inequalities that may result could cause greater injustice. My interpretation of Nozick is that as long as assets are acquired legitimately, it would be just for a society to be dominated by a powerful few, which would in turn disadvantaged the least well off by restricting their power and economic input.
From this interpretation, I find it far more logical and ethical to enforce the difference principle. This would place some restrictions on liberty so that equality could be achieved while also ensuring that inequalities could not occur without simultaneously benefiting the least advantaged. The difference principle has also been criticized by theorist for not being “ambition-sensitive” or “endowment-sensitive”. Critics argue that the equality achieved through the difference principle will leave individuals unmotivated since there is no retribution for their hard work.
I disagree with theses assumptions on the grounds that the difference principle promotes ambition through greater benefits earned by the harder workers, provided that the disadvantage also benefit. I agree with the critical evaluation of the difference principle lacking “endowment-sensitivity” based on Rawls’ denial to “compensates people for natural inequalities”. As a result, I find Rawls’ to be acting immoral since the equal distribution will further inhibit the lives of handicapped individuals by denying them the additional assets they require. J. J. C. Smart is concerned with a branch of utilitarianism called ?act-utilitarianism’.
Act-utilitarianism is the ethical perspective that “the rightness or wrongness of an action depends only on the total goodness or badness of its consequences”. Smart’s interpretation of justice is two fold: the role of justice in utilitarian ideology, and through a contrast of utilitarianism and Rawls theory. Smart argues that the notion of distribution is irrelevant to utilitarians unless the distribution maximizes the good consequences. It is crucial to recognize that the moral concept of justice and the distribution of it often infringes on the utilitarian goal of maximizing happiness.
When in pursuit of maximizing happiness for the larger sum, the violation of individuals’ interests or rights is often inevitable and thus justice can not be achieved. Smarts’ view of justice in society is to achieve a “means to a utilitarian end”. He also recognizes justice as a advantageous tools which is used to analyze the reasoning behind social and political institutions. Through an assessment of Rawls theory of justice, Smart illustrates how utilitarian views differ from those of an egalitarian.
While Smarts’ basis for ethical decision making is a “principle of generalized benevolence” , Rawls uses the agreement of individuals in the original position to deduce his ethical principles. Smart views this method as invalid since, the original position is a purely hypothetical situation. Although Smart does support the two basic principles of justice, he does not agree to the “universal rules”. If substantial societal improvements resulted from a reduction in civil liberty, then according to Smart, the restrictions would be just.
While analyzing Smart and the utilitarian ideology, I found the theme to be immoral. Although the guiding principle of utilitarianism is honorable, the method of achieving it condones sacrificing the interests of a smaller group. Furthermore, permission from the smaller group is never granted, nor is any attempt made to inform the individuals of the unauthorized injustice that is to be inflicted upon them. One of the most distinctive criticisms of utilitarianism, identified by John Rawls, is its failure to “take into account the nature of the desires being satisfied” when decided on the right act to pursue.
Since the desires of all individuals are equally weighted and the decision to pursue an act is solely based on whichever act will please the largest amount of people, it has been criticized that utilitarians would not be able to differential between evil and good desires. As a result, utilitarianism violates justice. Critics recognize that justice could be achieved if the utilitarian philosophy was modified so that the concept of justice would determine which desires are legitimate.
Yet, since Smart finds “the concept of justice as a fundamental ethical concept? foreign to utilitarianism” it is doubtful that such a refinement will ever take place. My opinion on justice in society is analogous with Rawls. I strongly support the notion of civil liberty and any institution or group of people that denies individuals cause injustice. I see no other system for justice than through equal distribution, which allows all members of society to have the political, economic, and social freedom to express themselves.
I agree with Rawls’ belief in that the second version of the Kantian categorical imperative is an essential principle in a ? just’ society. It advocates that it is morally wrong to treat individuals as a means to an end. Both Rawls and Kant recognize individuals as equal, and where there are no characteristics that make someone more valuable than another. If this view was shared by all members of society it would be impossible to exploit an individual to gain personal benefits, and thus the stability of justice would further be affirmed.
In consistency with Rawls theory of justice, I feel that undeniable injustice would result from the hypothetical redistribution where, societal change for the greater average happiness would result in an intensification of the burden carried by the poorest 5% of the population. In my opinion, this is the type of unreasonable injustice that could only be rationalized by a utilitarian. I argue against this societal change as it violates Rawls’ notion of justice as fairness, which was originally intended to help the less fortunate, and the difference principle by not providing equal benefits for all individuals.
The change could only be justified if, for example, the poorest 5% received some sort of extremely valuable social advantage, or government pension that made their monetary loss insignificant. Yet, even if the societal change was justified, I would still find it indisputably immoral to further disadvantage the individuals who have likely been the bearers of social and economic hardship their entire lives. I would also assume that impact of monetary inequalities from this change would generate a waterfall of inequalities, including inequalities in happiness, civil liberties, and workplace opportunity.
As a result of this chain of events, it is unrealistic to think that the difference principle could still come into effect, and turn the combined impact of these inequalities into an advantage for the disadvantaged. As a supporter of Rawlian theory and the notion of equality, I feel that the hypothetical situation is unjust and immoral. Through reflection on Kant’s second version of the categorical imperative, the immorality associated with sacrificing the interests of individuals in the pursuit of larger group happiness is obvious.
Rawls notion of the original position and the use of the maxamin rule illustrate how the initial position of equality leads to a shared desire for the least disruptive outcome for the subordinate groups when designing society. Once the concept of justice and equality is comprehended by the other 95% of society, they will recognize that the immorality of valuing only the happiness of a larger sum of individuals is hedonistic and self-indulgent. Through analysis of John Rawls and J. J. C. Smart, we are able to see the differences regarding the diverse roles played by justice in egalitarian and utilitarian societies.
Rawls’ finds the stability of justice to be dependent upon equality between all individuals affected by the act. In contrast to Rawls’, Smart interprets justice as a “means to a utilitarian end” since it does not always play a significant role in the philosophy of utilitarianism. I concur with Rawls’ reasoning of equality because it is the simplest method for guaranteeing fortification against the violation of individual’s interests. I find the rational behind J. J. C. Smart to be unethical in its disregard for the individual’s interest while in pursuit of maximizing happiness.
Overall I agree with the principles set forth by John Rawls in his book A Theory of Justice, because it protects against discrimination of the lowest 5 of the population whose voice is usually discredited and overlooked in society. Bibliography Bayles, Michael, ed. Contemporary Utilitarianism. Garden City: Anchor, 1968 Hoffman, Michael W, Robert E. Fredrick, and Mark S. Schwartz. Business Ethics Readings and Cases in Corporate Morality. 4th Canadian ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001 Lamont, Julian. “Distributive Justice.
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