Western Political Thought John Rawls: Rawl՚s Theory of Justice

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Western Political Thought John Rawls: Rawl՚s theory of Justice (Political Science)

In today՚s discussion, we have:

  • General introduction
  • Rawl՚s theory of justice
  • Rawl՚s methodology
  • Principles of justice
  • Questions


  • John Rawl՚s (1921 - 2002) , is a contemporary American philosopher whose theory of justice led to the revival of interest in political philosophy in modern times.
  • He is regarded as the first original theorist of justice since the times of Plato and Aristotle.
  • Rawl՚s developed his thinking in the liberal tradition.
  • His theory of political liberalism focuses on the legitimate use of power in democracy.
  • His writing on the law of the peoples seeks to extend the known principles of justice to the global sphere in order to achieve global justice.

Rawl՚s Theory of Justice

  • John Rawl՚s in his celebrated work A Theory of Justice (1971) asserted that a good society is characterized by number of virtues.
  • Justice is the first virtue of a good society.
  • In other words justice is necessary but not sufficient condition of a good society.
  • In a just society justice is established as a foundation of social structure.

The Problem of Justice

  • According to Rawl՚s the problem of justice consist in ensuring a just distribution of ‘primary goods’ .
  • Which includes rights and liberties, power and opportunities, income and wealth, means of self-respect and so on?
  • He describes his theory of justice as pure procedural justice.
  • It means that once certain principles of justice are unanimously accepted , the distribution resulting from its application will be necessarily just.

Rawl՚s Methodology

  • Following the tradition of ‘social contract’ Rawl՚s envisaged an ‘original position’ by abstracting the individual from their particular social and economic circumstances.
  • These individuals are symbolically placed behind ‘veil of ignorance’ , where they are supposed to be deliberating as rational agents.
  • They are very unaware of their wants, interest, skills and abilities as well as condition which lead to conflict and discrimination in society.
  • But they have an elementary knowledge of economics and psychology, and are endowed with a ‘sense of justice’ .
  • Each individual want to maximize his or her well-being but without being envious.
  • They are self – interested but not egoist.
  • According to him, in such a state of uncertainty the rational negotiators will choose the least dangerous path.
  • Each individual will hypothetically place himself in ′ the least advantaged position while assigning the distribution of primary goods.
  • Hence each of them will demand greatest benefit for the least advantaged.
  • Rawl՚s hypothesis of the original position is designed “to combine into one conception the totality of conditions which we are ready upon due reflection to recognize as reasonable in our conduct toward one another” . (A Theory of Justice; 1971)
  • Since the principles of justice are to be determined by rational negotiators, they exercise rational choice in adopting these principles.

Principles of Justice

  • As a result of the hypothetical negotiation under such conditions, three principles of justice are accepted by all.
  • According to Rawl՚s in following order:
    • Principle of equal liberty which means that nobody՚s liberty will be compromised for any other benefit (liberty in this sense implies equal right of political participation, freedom of expression, religious liberty, equality before the law etc.)
    • Principle of fair equality of opportunity, particularly for acquiring offends positions.
    • The Difference Principle which implies that any departure from equal distribution of the primary goods can be justified only when it could be proved to bring greatest benefits to the least advantaged.
  • In other words, a special reward for extraordinary ability and effort to any individual can be treated as just only if it results in the greatest benefits to the least advantaged.
  • In other words, the rule of allocation ‘to each according to his ability’ can be applied only if higher efficiency of the concerned individual results in ameliorating the condition of least advantaged.
  • He introduces the idea of chain connection which implies that in order to strengthen a chain; we should start with strengthening its weakest link, and then repeat the process by identifying the weakest link on each occasion.


1) In his theory of justice Rawl՚s attack on?

a) Liberalism

b) Realism

c) Utilitarianism

d) Idealism

Ans: Utilitarianism

2) Find incorrect pair:

a) A Theory of justice -1971

b) Political liberalism -1993

c) The law of peoples – 1987

d) Justice as fairness – 2001

Ans: as it was year 1999 and not 1987.

3) Justice as fairness means?

a) Pay without jobs

b) Free homes

c) Society having equal rights, opportunities

d) None

Ans: Justice as fairness envisions a society of free citizens holding equal basic rights, enjoying equal opportunities of advancement and cooperating to achieve a common goal.

4) Rawl՚s theory of justice is a-

a) Substantive justice

b) Procedural justice

c) Both

d) None

Ans: Procedural justice

5) The individuals placed behind ‘veil of ignorance’ are-

a) Rational agents

b) Egoists

c) Envious

d) All

Ans: Rational agents.