Rawls’ Two Principles of Justice
“A Theory of Justice” has, by page 53, developed the first statement of the two basic principles of justice.
First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive scheme of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for others.
Second: social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and ( attached to positions and offices open to all.
These two principles apply to the basic social structure governing rights and duties of all citizens as well as to the distribution of the economic advantages of the society to all citizens. The first principle establishes rights, just as does our constitution, and the second principle focuses upon the inequalities that are inherent in any such structure.
The next 200 pages of the book are dedicated to the clarification of the ambiguous phrases “every one’s advantage” and “open to all” in the second principle.
Just as in our constitutional system the rights are primary and concerns regarding fair distribution of advantages and disadvantages are subject to a code of justice.
”All social values—liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the social bases of self-respect—are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any, or all, of these values is to everyone’s advantage.”
I have much yet to study and understand in this book but I think it’s most important feature is the concentration upon the matter of the second principle. This book is obviously written by a liberal as one can see by recognizing its focus upon the matters in the second principle. Liberals are inclined to seek deontological (rational and ‘universal’) claims for morality as opposed to a form usually labeled as utilitarianism or consequentialism.
Liberals take the stance that to agree on the fact means to agree on the morality of the situation. Any deviation is indefensible and reflects only selfish rationalization. Liberals find it almost impossible to respect the moral position of conservatives and conservatives find it impossible to judge that liberals are the intellectual equals of conservatives.
The apparent reason for this disjunction is the fact that liberals and conservatives seem to have “their own kind of morality” according to the analysis in ”The Morality of Politics” by W. H. Walsh.
“What we need to observe is that conservatives and liberals are working within different traditions of morality. The morality of the conservative is closed morality; it is the morality of a particular community. The morality of the liberal is an open morality; it is a morality which has nothing to do with any particular human groups, but applies to all men whatever their local affiliations.”
Lakoff and Johnson in their book “Philosophy in the Flesh” tend to think that the morality of liberals are that of ‘the nurturing mother’ while conservatives tend to be a ‘strict father’.
The web site http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~piccard/entropy/rawls.html provides an outline of John Rawls’ book “A Theory of Justice”.