Monday, September 06, 2010

Jonathan Wolff on Rawls: Philosophy Bites

Jonathan Wolff on Rawls: Philosophy Bites
Rawls' 'A Theory of Justice' (1971) is one of the most important contributions to political philosophy of the twentieth century. His main argumane twas that What matters most in society is the position of the worst off. Rawls' became so famous that his name is an adjective (like Foucault's Foucaultians/Foucauldians) - some political philosophers call themselves Rawlsian. There is still academic output to enjoy; they are producing papers from his backlog, despite his death. Rawls was famous for this two (three!) principles:
1. Liberty Principle - each person is entitled to equal and extensive set of rights;
2a: Difference Principle - about the distribution of income and wealth in society: there is a sense that equal distribution of wealth should be achieved, but it might be that inequalities would make everyone better off eg some people are super-productive and thus super-successful makes the rest of the economy very productive, with tax-payments, etc. However, inequality is only justified if they make the 'worst off' as well-off as possible.
2b: Fair Opportunity Principle - everyone is entitled to fair equality of opportunity.

Rawls liked to put his ideas on other people (rather than claiming them as his own), but couldn't find one for the Difference Principle. 'It's not enough that they make everyone better off, you have to make the 'worst off' as well off as possible.' He used the method of a hypothetical contract, the 'original position'; people are influenced by their own current situation - "let's take people and imagine what they would like in their society if we and they did not know where they sat in relation to the decision," eg sex discrimination: If you do not know if you are a man or a woman, do you want gender discrimination? Behind this 'veil of ignorance', not knowing what position one would have in society, the person then has to ask what they want society to be as a selfish person looking out for themselves, since the 'veil of ignorance' instills fairness.

Rawls isn't saying give money away, instead tax will take care of that...

There are objections against Rawls. With the opportunity of a big pay off, some would gamble on their position (you might be hoping for something awesome on the chance that you might end up on top - if you aren't likely to have much, is gambling that last bit really important?). Utilitarians think this is so, isn't it rational to gamble a little to try to get yourself in a better position?

Rawls said that the first victory against the liberty and opportunity principle is to consider who would gamble with their opportunities and their liberties? You would play safely not knowing where you start off...

Partly this is because money isn't everything...

Rawls emphasises liberty principle is above all...

Imagining the original position is probably conceived as being done by liberal thinkers, not a bunch of Fascists. So can you make assumptions about everyone else's likely behaviour in this situation?

Ignorance is a way of modelling impartiality... but what should you be made ignorant, race, status, preferences?

Rawls thinks that we should assume that everyone is focused on & values the primary goods: liberty, opportunity, social basis for self-respect, money (income, wealth).

Other communitarians like Michael Sandello? thinks Rawls is biased towards a liberal, individualistic thinking.

You can date the development of political philosophy; there are few thinkers between Mill and Rawls (who started publishing in 1950s).

Listen to the talk by clicking here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Visit - A colorfully flamboyant webcomic!