Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Social Justice Day 2: Rawls Revisited

Today we continue on with the topic of social justice.  Specifically, we continue talking about Rawls.  He has some basic principle of justice. First, basic liberties are to be as broad as possible, consistent with equal liberty for all.  Second, offices and positions in society that have unequal reward are supposed to be formally available for all of similar talent, ability and motivation.  Third, any differences in social or economic goods are supposed to benefit the least advantaged person in society. The first principle is called the Principle of Equal Liberty and the second and third principles make up what is called the Difference Principle.  The difference principle, which Rawls also calls "democratic equality" ensures that benefits and rewards will not be distributed based on luck.  Luck cannot determine benefits and rewards because luck is morally arbitrary.  Rawls thinks that we should not distribute wealth, goods and power according to standards that are morally arbitarary.

In order to further his views on "democratic equality", Rawls first considers two alternative views and shows how these alternative views are inadequate because they allow benefits to be distributed based on things that are arbitrary from a moral point of view.

The first alternative is called The System of Natural Liberty.  This is the view that supports Rawls' first principle.  Namely, personal liberty should be expanded as far as possible so far as the liberty of others' is not limited.  The just society is one that has equal liberty for all and an efficient free market economy where jobs are open to everyone who has talents.  But this system allows that success can be determined by lucky circumstances.  Because equality is not actively pursued, initial distribution of goods and power will be based on lucky facts about where you are born into a society.  Once the initial distribution sets up this unequal distribution, future distributions will be further based on this inequality.  Perhaps luck will shape our lives.  But the system of natural liberty does not do any work to regulate the consequences of luck.

The second alternative is called Liberal Equality, which takes the above view and adds the first part of the difference principle to it.  The view is that we just need equality of liberty and equality of opportunities.  But Rawls thinks that this view also allows that lucky factors play too large a role in distribution of goods and power.  This view will work imperfectly because people are in families.  We cannot decide where the benefits go based on talents and motivation alone because even our talents and our motivation are often the result of our family upbringings.  Even if families did not shape talents and motivations, liberal equality still allows for distribution of goods based on a "natural lottery".  Wealth, power and talents are distributed naturally at birth. Because lucky factors such as being born smart or being born pretty are arbitrary from a moral point of view, they are not a good basis for distribution of these goods.

Rawls thinks that this shows that democratic equality (the second element of the difference principle) is necessary.  Only democratic equality will prevent distribution of benefits based on luck.

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