Mi intención es estudiar Economía y Política (LL12), pero leyendo tu blog no sé si me he metido en un berenjenal de mucho cuidado.
¡Hoy, oficialmente primer día de primavera el sol ha decidido visitar Londres! Se estaba genial bebiendo Iced Tea al lado del canal, o dando un paseo en bicicleta por el parque... pero hay examen, y a la biblioteca fui de cabeza. Examen el lunes, avisado el viernes. Examen de un libro completo de 300 páginas. En fin, después del desastre del otro examen de macroeconomía, habrá que enseñarle a este señor lo bien que sabemos hacer los exámenes los españoles. Hay otro examen el martes de micro, que todavía no me he empezado a preparar (tocará empezar una vez acabado el examen de macro, mañana a las 4 de la tarde, y seguramente habrá que aguantar un all-nighter, hola Redbull sin azúcar) y después, lo que queda de semana es relajado y feliz hasta que coja el vuelo a Madrid el viernes. ¡Ya puedo oler el incienso y el azahar! Aunque como aquí no se celebra la Semana Santa (las vacaciones son de pascua, tres semanas) me voy a saltar la última semana de curso, pero no pasa nada, son todo sesiones de repaso que no me an a beneficiar mucho de todas maneras. Mañana me toca recoger el calendario de exámenes, ¡esperemos que pueda estar libre antes de Junio! Como no me echan de la casa hasta Julio, pues aprovecharé para sacar el carné de conducir.
Do John Rawls’ two principles of justice succeed in uniting the principle of liberty with the ideal of equality?
John Rawls proposes two principles of justice in his book “A theory of Justice”: justice should be based in access to the most extensive scheme of basic liberties and inequalities should be to everyone’s advantage. Through this principles he creates a web in which justice is completely supported by equality and liberty, in a situation in which one cannot exist without the other two. The implication of equality in justice is proved with the assertion that justice can only be applied to equal beings. The implication of liberty, through a society of equal beings in which therefore liberty is the obedience to general will. Once proved both implications examples are provided: through equality of opportunity and obedience to the general will Rawls’ success is proved. After a brief analysis of the criticisms, the conclusion is that, even if a presence of the natural right in his work is desirable he succeeds in uniting the three concepts.
Uniting the ideal of equality with the principle of liberty through two principles of justice is one of the many ideas that John Rawls attempted in his book “A theory of justice”, first published in 1971. However, the question itself implies many other questions that can arise before the study begins. What do we mean by ideal of equality and principle of liberty? Does justice comprise liberty and equality? Does the ideal of equality imply the non-existence of inequalities? Does liberty limit equality? Or vice versa? Does justice limit them both? But most important of all, how does justice unite liberty and equality? And do Rawls’ principles achieve this? The aim of this essay is to provide rational answers to these questions and analyse the union of liberty and equality that can emerge from Rawls’ two principles.
Justice has had different meanings through the history of political thought. From Aristotle’s definition “refraining from pleonexia” (In the sense that a situation is just as long as an individual does not gain advantage for himself by taking hold of another individual’s properties) through the utilitarianism of Bentham, one of the latest theories of justice is that of John Rawls. In the book mentioned above, “A theory of Justice”, Rawls states that the principles of justice should be determined by “the choice which rational men would make in the hypothetical situation of equal liberty”, that is, the rules that men (and women) would agree to base their society on, if they were absolutely identical, or, as Rawls defines it, under “a veil of ignorance” that would prevent them to know their social position in society, their own abilities and capacities, sex or race.
In the Rawlsian jargon, the previous situation is known as the “original position”. From this original position is where the rational men and women stated above will agree in the principles of justice. Rawls calls his theory “justice as fairness”, since “it conveys the idea that the principles of justice are agreed to in an initial situation that is fair” (the original position). The two principles are as follows:
1. 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.
2. Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are: A) Reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and B) attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.
If these two principles are to set the basis of justice, it can be agreed that injustice occurs whenever they are not observed. Society or individuals, then, are unjust when they restrict other’s liberties or opportunities, or when they allow the existence of inequalities that are not to the advantage of every person. To prevent injustice, Rawls states that justice should be taken as “a complex of three ideas: liberty, equality and reward for services contributing to the common good.”
Barbara Goodwin defines equality as “the first assumption of morality”, that is, that morality needs to be based in equality, since individuals do not need or tend to act morally with others considered inferior. Only those considered as equal or superior will deserve a moral treatment. When relating it to justice, different types of equality come to mind: equality before the law, political equality (all men are equal to women, black are equal to white, etc with respect to access to office, suffrage…), and the most important of all, equality of opportunity. The latter is even implied directly in principle II-b, and it will be developed later on.
It is clear that equality is a fundamental part of justice, since without humans being equal there could be no sense of just society in the sense that Rousseau described (and that Rawls shares): “private concerns become considerably fewer, because each individual shares so largely in the common happiness that he has no occasion to seek for it in private resources.” In this just society, individuals are so equal that the public affaires are what becomes important. From here it can be concluded that the ideal of equality comprises a society in which all individuals are equal politically and before the law, and have all equal access to opportunities. Living in this ideal of equality provides the background for a competitive justice to operate.
The second idea that conforms justice is liberty (or freedom). Since the seventeenth century, political thought and philosophy agree that only free men can have access to justice. This is supported by the idea of equality, since non-free persons are, in a sense, inferior to those who are, and therefore they should not have access to a justice designed to be used by equal individuals. These theories have evolved and now state that, all men are equal then all have the right to be free; in fact, as a matter of justice, it is an injustice to cut anyone’s liberty. However, there are different ways to understand liberty. In its extreme sense (“I do what I want, how and when I want to”) liberty itself can be unjust, because it can strike other’s liberties or rights (for example, if an individual chooses not to pay taxes he is abusing of the other taxpayers, etc). This is the kind of liberty that Rawls is referring to when he speaks about “the most extensive scheme of basic liberties”: the most extensive scheme, which can be restricted by law, society or moral. However, there are other ways to understand liberty, the most important of them the one that Rousseau proposes: liberty as obedience to the general will. This conception of liberty is perfectly compatible to the conception of equality seen above, in which individuals are absolutely equal.
However there is an important difference (that Rawls remarks) between the sense of equality as a social ideal, that is, a society in which all have the same rights, privileges and duties independent of their age, position, race, etcetera, and the sense of equality as a concept of justice. It has been said above that equality is a requirement for justice, but it is clear that an equal treatment is not sufficient for justice to exist. Liberty has a priority role in the Theory of Justice: it is unjust not to have access to the basic liberties. In fact, Rawls summarizes the importance of both when he claims that “justice requires only an equal liberty.” Liberty is then restricted by equality; only what economists call “Pareto efficiency” is allowed: liberty can be exercised in order to make an individual better off, if and only if that exercise does not make any other individual worse off. The equality of liberty, therefore, limits positive liberty but enhances in exchange the negative, since (all individuals having equal liberties) interference between them is not necessary. From here it can be concluded that the existence of inequality implies injustice, and vice versa. As said before, equality and liberty in the sense of justice hold hands, so it can be also concluded that an injustice entails as well a lack of liberty.
Principle II-b defines the most important role of equality in the Rawlsian conception of justice: justice as fair equality of opportunity. From the individuals in a society, “those with similar abilities and skills should have similar life chances.” Equality of opportunity is one of the ways through which the union of justice with liberty and equality can be proved. Fair equality of opportunity implies liberty of choice: for example, in a society in which “positions and offices are open to all”, as the second principle states, the individuals have the liberty to choose to which position or office are they going to apply for, if they apply for any. In a broader sense, in the second principle, Rawls is explaining how the inequalities should be distributed. That means that there is the assumption that inequalities are always going to exist, therefore the ideal of equality as the non-existence of inequalities is reformulated by Rawls. Inequalities are always going to exist in a society; as a result, in order for justice to exist, inequalities have to be distributed to everyone’s advantage. The only way in which these inequalities can be allocated in a just way is the one in which they are accepted freely. In the moment an individual is forced to suffer an inequality, an injustice is being perpetrated. That is one example of the ways in which Rawls’ two principles succeed in uniting liberty with equality.
It has been said above that a possible interpretation of liberty is the one Rousseau proposes: liberty as obedience to the general will. That definition is also linked with equality, since only all individuals being equal can they interest themselves more in the public issues than in the private ones. To achieve this concept of liberty, Goodwin clarifies, individuals should “divest themselves of their selfish interests.” Rawls also treats the theme of selfishness in his work, but he calls it envy: “the special assumption I make is that a rational individual does not suffer from envy…”. What can be deduced from the absence of selfishness/envy in both works is that selfishness provokes inequality, i.e. makes us unequal. An easier way to explain this is that if equality is the first asset of morality (as seen above), and selfishness is not moral, selfishness makes us unequal. By eliminating selfishness, the principle of liberty is to obey the general will. The general will can only be obeyed if all individuals are equal, therefore this is another example of the success of the two principles.
Whereas Rawls’s treatment of concepts such as primary goods, status quo and other has been widely criticised in the academic ambit, it is not those in which the essay is based. There have been critics, however, to the enforcement of positive rights (the right to be exposed to an action of other individual) that he applies to various things such as equality of opportunity. Robert Nozick claims that "These 'rights' require a substructure of things and materials and actions (…) and other people may have rights and entitlements over these.” It is precisely this substructure failure what has been lambasted widely. As seen, Nozick and many authors claim that Rawls’ theory is based on erroneous principles, and therefore the principles are flawed and cannot unite any ideals of equality with principles of liberty. Philosopher Allan Bloom denounces the non-existence of the natural right in any point of Rawls’ theory: “disappointingly, A theory of Justice does not even manifest an awareness of this need, let alone respond to it.” Without the basis of natural right and positive rights, they argue, the theory is built over weak pillars. A final criticism is that of Amdur concerning liberty. He states that “Still, Rawls does not want to argue that (…) liberties are absolute”, but that “his limits (to liberties) are (…) insignificant”, therefore exposing the weakness of Rawls’ argumentation.
Be that as it may, the responses to Rawls’ Theory of Justice focus mainly, as said above, in topics other than the union of the ideal of equality with the principle of liberty through his two principles of justice. In conclusion, the criticism arisen from this work is not strong enough to overshadow Rawls’ reasoning. Even though a presence of Natural right in his work would be desirable, without it, it is perfectly possible to reach the conclusion that he is successful in joining the two concepts through the principle of justice by establishing a web in which liberty, and equality support justice, and any of the elements can exist if one of them is missing, as it has been proved in the examples above.
Amdur, R. (1977) “Rawls’ theory of justice: domestic and international perspective” published in “World Politics”, Volume 29, Nr. 3
Bloom, A. (1975) “Justice: John Rawls vs. the tradition of political philosophy”, published in The American political Science review, vol. 69, nr 2 Available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1959094?seq=1&Search=yes&term=bloom&term=allan&term=rawls&term=right&term=natural&list=hide&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dallan%2Bbloom%2Brawls%2Bnatural%2Bright%26gw%3Djtx%26prq%3Dallan%2Bbloom%2Brawls%26Search%3DSearch%26hp%3D25%26wc%3Don&item=4&ttl=153&returnArticleService=showArticle&resultsServiceName=doBasicResultsFromArticle. Last accessed 5/3/10, 00.32
Goodwin, B. (2007) “Using political ideas”. Chichester: Wiley
Nozick, R. (1974) “Anarchy, state and utopia”. London: Blackwell
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Rawls, J. (1964) “Justice as fairness” in Laslett, P. and Runciman, W. “Philosophy, politics and society”. Oxford: Basil Blackwell
Rousseau, J. (1762) “The social contract”. Book III
Tawney, R. (1931) “Equality”. London: Unwin Brothers
Wolff, R. (1977) “Understanding Rawls”. Guildford: Princeton University Press
 Rawls, J. (1971) “A theory of justice”. Oxford: Oxford university press. P. 9
 Rawls, J. (1971) Op. Cit. P.11
 Rawls, J. (1971) Op. Cit. P.11
 Rawls, J. (1971) Op. Cit. P.53 The “fair equality of opportunity” part is added on P. 72
 Rawls, J. (1964) “Justice as fairness” in Laslett, P. and Runciman, W. “Philosophy, politics and society”, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, P. 134 (Rawls himself states that these principles can be found on Mill’s “on liberty” and elsewhere).
 Goodwin, B. (2007) “Using political ideas”. Chichester: Wiley, P. 417
 Rousseau, J. (1762) “The social contract”, Book III, chapter XV
 Rawls, J. (1964) “Justice as fairness” in Laslett, P. and Runciman, W. “Philosophy, politics and society”, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, P. 134
 Rawls, J. (1971) “A theory of justice”. Oxford: Oxford university press. P. 63
 Rawls, J. (1971) Op. Cit. P. 72
 Goodwin, B. (2007) “Using political ideas”. Chichester: Wiley, P. 347
 Rawls, J. (1971) Op. Cit. P. 125
 Nozick, R. (1974) “Anarchy, state and utopia” London: Blackwell, P. 238
 Bloom, A. (1975) “Justice: John Rawls vs. the tradition of political philosophy”, published in The American political Science review, vol. 69, nr 2 P. 648. Available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1959094?seq=1&Search=yes&term=bloom&term=allan&term=rawls&term=right&term=natural&list=hide&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dallan%2Bbloom%2Brawls%2Bnatural%2Bright%26gw%3Djtx%26prq%3Dallan%2Bbloom%2Brawls%26Search%3DSearch%26hp%3D25%26wc%3Don&item=4&ttl=153&returnArticleService=showArticle&resultsServiceName=doBasicResultsFromArticle. Last accessed 5/3/10, 00.32
 Amdur, R. (1977) “Rawls’ theory of justice: domestic and international perspective” published in “World Politics”, Volume 29, Nr. 3 P. 440
 Amdur, R. (1977) Op. Cit. P. 441