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John Rawls and the Theory of Justice
John Rawls (1921-2002) is another prominent nonconsequentialist, especially his “Theory of
Natural rights versus rights of a just society
In the tradition from Locke to Nozick, human rights have been seen as natural rights. The
American Declaration of Independence was founded on this principle. Where do these natural
rights come from?
For Rawls rights are given through a “just society.” A “just society” is founded on those
principles that we would agree to from behind a “veil of ignorance.”
Two basic principles according to Rawls would be adopted:
1. Equality principle – equal rights to maximum liberty;
2. Difference principle - inequality is acceptable if everyone benefits and has equal opportunity
to receive such benefits.
These principles together would create a just society for Rawls and ought to be accepted given
that no one will know in advance how the principles will work out for them.
Difference between Rawls and Nozick
Rawls is liberal, Nozick is libertarian. For Nozick, liberty is the good that society ought to
protect. For Rawls, society needs to protect a range of goods. For Rawls, ultimately wealth
belongs to society for Nozick, it belongs to individuals.
Advantages and disadvantages of Rawls
1. Fits with ideals of liberal capitalism: individual freedoms, equitable distribution of wealth.
2. Is a “veil of ignorance” possible?
3. Is Rawls’ theory any better than its competitors?
Moral or legal punishment usually involved four elements:
1. It must involve unpleasantness
2. Punishment must be given or done for some thing
3. It should be imposed or given by those with requisite authority
4. It must be imposed according to laws or rules violated by offender
Justice perhaps best served by law rather than private individuals for two reasons:
1. Private punishment looks more like vengeance than justice
2. Public punishment more amenable to justice being carried out
Theories of punishment
Retributive, or deserts, theory
Punishment only when it is deserved not in order to accomplish anything, such as deter.
Imposed because of a crime committed not a social good to be achieved.
Copyright © 2009 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.