To begin an analysis of John Rawls egalitarian theory of justice one must first understand certain theories, and positions on justice that are key elements for Rawls. First, one must understand the role of justice in a society. Second, an examination of the main idea behind the theory of justice followed by an explanation of two key principles of Justice is necessary. To conclude I will discuss the inherent problem of individuals born into a less favorable social position.
Rawls begins with talking about the role of the principles of justice in a society. As he puts it, these “principles provide a way of assigning rights and duties in the basic institutions of society and define the appropriate distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation.” Justice is highly regarded as a basic virtue in many social institutions. But, as is pointed out by Rawls, if this core role of justice in tainted, the laws of institutions must be changed.
The difficultly here is assigning alternative principles that do not deny the freedom of a few to benefit the greater good. Rawls presents his concept which is based guiding ideas that the principles of justice must be the foundation to which all other societal agreements are based upon. These are principles that establish the essence of the initial position of equality between all members.
A first step in this formation process is to decide which members will decide upon the guiding principles and means to regulate them. After having chosen this justice system, Rawls believes the next logical steps would be to construct a constitution and legislature body; all of which are based of the original guiding principles.
One drawback with this situation is that of members may inherently choose principles that would in affect require the sacrifices of a few to benefit the greater good, or sum of society. To overcome this problem Rawls suggests that two initial principles be chosen. One that assigns basic rights and duties, while the other deals with social and inequalities. Rawls maintains that with concerning economic factors, inequalities are only just if the resulting benefit applies to every member, including the least advantaged members of that society.
Given this information, Rawls presents two principles of justice he believes would be chosen.
[First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for other.
Second: social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all… The Difference Principle.]
These principles given are sequential. This prevents the social liberties given in the first principle from being compromised by attempts to skew economic advantage towards certain members of society and away from others. It is these inequalities that do not benefit all that Rawls believes to be true injustice.
The idea of inequalities have since been thought of as unnatural inequalities or those of birth. That these natural and undeserving inequalities occur in all societies, Rawl takes the argument that they must be compensated somehow.
This principle of redress holds that in order to treat members equally and provide all with the same opportunities, a society is obligated to provide assistance to those with fewer than average natural born advantages. This presents a tough challenge though.
In an honest effort to rectify these inequalities, resources that might have been otherwise directed to society could be diverted presenting the problem of equality for all. This issue of “redress,” as Rawl puts it treads on the first principle set forth to contain the core guiding ideas used to construct all other social institutions.
One solution could be to not directly weigh against Rawl’s first principle. To recognize that there are other general concerns and goals accepted within a society, advancement of the common good, improved overall standard of life within a society; that should be taken into consideration. As Rawl mentions, the social system is not unchangeable. It should, however, stay as true and close to its core principles of justice so as to not lose those guiding ideas through a laundry list of sub-principles.
Rawl clearly breaks down what he believes should be the core guiding principles of a just society. These are designed to assign basic rights and duties and to determine the division of social benefits. But as pointed out, there are inherent challenges along the way. For example, who sets forth these principles in a manner that is un-biased? And what of problems arising concerning out-of-the-box issues like natural born equality issues. The principles of justice presented are a plausible and just system. Ultimately though the success and longevity will be determined by the inborn will of a society and unfortunately time has proven this to not always work to societies best interests.