William J. Terry
1998

Notes from John Rawls' Theory of Social Justice, v.2

According to John Rawls, as we investigate the topics of social justice and political equality, we must identify the rights that people have independently of a political system.  We must also identify the allocation of benefits and burdens of social and economic life.  We must also examine the degree of equal opportunity that a democratic society offers to its citizens and how those citizens are qualified themselves.  What differentiates a full socially cooperative citizen from an uncooperative citizen?  Should an uncooperative member of society have the same equal opportunity to access his society's resources as a cooperative citizen?  As a matter of justice, what rights do people have?  Which principles should regulate people's access of their society to the resources of their society; such as health care jobs, and capital?  To refine these questions, Rawls asks the first primary question, "Which principles of social justice must regulate the institutions of society in order for its citizens understood as free and equal to be cooperating on fair terms".
 Rawls's seeks which principles of social justice should regulate the institutions of society in order for its citizens to be understood as free and equal, and to be cooperating on fair terms.  This includes life in the political and economic systems.  Rawls examines these topics and offers an ideal thesis for developing a fair system of social justice. He calls this thesis the Fair Terms of Justice Thesis.  Rawls says that free and equal citizens are cooperating on fair terms if and only if their society accords fully with the following principles of justice.  First, each citizen must be accorded an equal claim to a scheme of basic rights and liberties.  Secondly, social and economic inequalities must be to the greatest benefit to the least advantaged members of society in the context of fair equality of opportunity for all.   Rawls terms this second principle the Difference Principle.  The crucial factor of Rawls's Justice as Fairness Thesis is that the First Principle always presides over the Difference Principle.  Citizens' basic rights must not be restricted, even if it reduces inequalities.
  Here is an explicit example of Rawls's Justice as Fairness Thesis.  First, each person should have an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme for all; and in this scheme the equal political liberties, and only those liberties, are to be guaranteed their fair value.  Second, social and economic liberties are to satisfy two conditions: first, they are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and second, they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society.  Rawls's further states that these two principles regulates institutions in a particular realm not only in regard to basic rights, liberties, and opportunities but also in regard to the claims of equality.  The second part of the second principle underwrites the worth of these institutional guarantees.  The two principles together, with the first given priority over the second, regulate the basic institutions that realize these values ( John Rawls, Political Liberalism,p.6).

The Fact of Reasonable Pluralism
According to Rawls, it is inevitable that human reason in a free, democratic society will produce a plurality of diverse religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines.
Rawls asks the second primary question concerning social justice, "Given the fact the people are divided by religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines; how is it possible for there to be a consensus among them on a conception of social justice?  In reply, Rawls differentiates between political values and religious, philosophical and moral values.  According to Rawls, if we succeed in restricting the our reason to political values only, and exclude the moral, religious, and philosophical disputes; then maybe we can arrive at fair terms of social justice for all.
This leads us to the thesis of Liberal Neutrality, which states our beliefs about the requirements of social justice should be justified without any appeals to conflicting religious, philosophical and moral beliefs.  Rawls does not like the term of Neutrality, but refers to this concept as Political Values.
Political Values, according to  Rawls, include a basic structure of subject matter, economic values, taxation, the political system, vote count and elections.  Political Values, however, must be subject to the conception of Liberal Justice.  Political conceptions are matters of social justice, where comprehensive doctrines encompass a broader range. A comprehensive doctrine, for example, is that of Buddhists objecting to factory farming as a result of their values.  Comprehensive doctrines are broad and answer wide encompassing questions with broad answers; such as, "Why are we here".  Third, Rawls believes political values hold fundamentals such as democracies are founded on the consent of the governed; thereby allowing citizens to shape their own destiny.  Political values are a subset of all moral values.  By the term political values, Rawls does not mean "politics as usual, status quo and self interest of the governors".
 Overlapping Consensus is the ground on which parties converge and agree about ideas such as social justice.  These are the essentials of Rawls, the point of view is here and now and it must of the citizens to be socially just.
 Some people are skeptical.  Rawls attempts to prove that it is plausible to reach common ground.  The consensus will reach common ground, if not there may be injustice, possibly anarchy and violence.  According to Professor Hinton, Rawls' overlapping consensus as rational compromise of differing philosophies is much like Beitz's collective decision rule of Justice in Democracy, in respect to procedural fairness.  However, Rawls differentiates; people have got to overlap moral positions, not political procedures.
 As we lead up to Rawls' Original Position Thesis; we must outline Rawls' method of considered convictions to basic principles.  The Picture of Justification states that there are firmly held convictions about social justice.  There are provisional, fixed points such as; slavery is unjust and different religions must be tolerated.  There are implicit ideas and principles inherent in this argument.  One such argument is that slavery is unjust because in a free democracy because all people must be equal in order to be free.  Rawls fashions these ideas into a coherent conception of justice, called the Original Position.  The parties must identify the most important concepts of social justice, such as equal rights in a democracy.
 Rawls has three fundamental ideas concerning a well ordered democracy.  His three fundamental ideas which Justice as Fairness take as its starting point are that an ideal society is a fair system of cooperation over time; that cooperating citizens should be free and equal; and that a well ordered society is regulated by a political conception of justice (Rawls).
Rawls interprets an ideal society as a fair system of cooperation if there is a fair division of labor where the benefits and burdens are equal.  Citizens should have fair access to labor and fair proceeds from the labor.  Rawls says that free and equal citizens should be healthy, competent cooperating adults.  Cooperating adults should be equal by having the same worth and weight.
 According to Rawls, people are only equal in the political and deliberative sense if they constructively cooperate with the rest of society.
 The idea of a well ordered society holds that reasonable acceptance of the principles of society should be voluntary and without coercion.  The principles of society should be publicly known; that there are no secret principles constructed.  Al people should also stand as equals under the laws of society.
 Rawls use of these ideas is very plausible because in his example, citizens are being reasonable in agreeing upon society's principles.  A free society will be united if it can reach a reasonable consensus on what is good; while at the same time allowing free, cooperating citizens to form independent conceptions of the good.

This leads us to Rawls' Original Position Thesis. This is how Rawls conceptualizes a connection between a person and a companion conception of social cooperation with certain specific principles of justice(304).  These principles specify fair terms of social cooperation ignorance(305).  The original position according to Rawls is the conception of a person and its companion conception of social cooperation with certain specific principles of justice.
The original position is a thought experiment in which parties abstract principles of justice for society.  These parties are representatives of citizens in society and must operate under a veil of ignorance which disallows them knowledge about their constituency's conception of the good, social position, realized abilities, race, psychological propensity, culture, or ethnicity.  This is to protect the constituency from unfair and unequal treatment; as theses described qualities exist in varying degrees among people and could produce an unfair advantage for people whom the parties find more  favorable.  The qualities hidden by the veil of ignorance are not essential to achieve fair terms of social justice for a society.  Only certain basic rights of the constituency should be realized for the parties to pick the most rational principles of justice.  Rawl's calls these basic rights primary goods.  Among them are the basic liberties; freedom of thought and liberty of conscience, freedom of association, the integrity of the person, and the rights and liberties covered by the rule of law. In addition, the primary goods also are freedom of movement and free choice of occupation against a background of diverse opportunities, powers and prerogatives of office and responsibility, all purpose income and wealth, and the social bases of self respect.
The concept of the cooperating, competent person in Rawls' original position has the, and the social bases of self respect.
The concept of the free, cooperating, competent person in Rawls' original position has two moral powers, the capacity to act on the principles of justice in a reasonable and fair minded manner, and to form, enact, and conceptualize the determinate good.
The parties are reasonable in arriving at the original position, but they are rational in choosing the best form of social justice.  In this sense, the parties are rationally autonomous within the original position, while citizens are fully autonomous with their reasoning.  A mean is reasonable only if it is accepted by everyone.  The rational approach seeks for the parties within the original position to secure as many primary goods for their constituents that they can agree to.
Rawls' original position is successful in allowing the parties to reach an overlapping consensus of the most important basic rights in a morally diverse society.  It also allows people to exercise their two moral powers.
Rawls replies to the charge that the basic liberties are merely formal by stating that the explicit basic liberties are a framework of legally protected paths and opportunities specified by institutional rights and duties.  The worth of these liberties is subject to extraneous circumstances such as ignorance and poverty.  These do not restrict a person's liberty, but they may affect the usefulness of a person's basic liberties by reducing their worth.  In justice as fairness, the usefulness of liberty is specified in terms of an index of the primary goods regulated by the second principle of justice, the difference principle, which states that social and economic equalities should satisfy two conditions.  First,  They must be attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.  Second, they must be the greatest benefit to the least advantaged members of society.  When the difference principle is satisfied, this lessor worth of liberty is compensated because it maximizes the primary goods available to the least advantaged to make use of equal basic liberties enjoyed by everyone.
Rawls further states that first principle of justice should also guarantee that the political liberties are secured by fair value.  Fair value, according to Rawls, means that the worth of political value to all citizens be approximately equal; where everyone has a fair opportunity to hold public office and influence elections.  This will ensure equal access to political processes for each citizen, which is another counter to objections that basic liberties are merely formal.
 Rawls is successful and consistent in his rebuttal because he builds the basic liberties onto his idea of the original position in a liberal society with the Difference Principle and the fair value of political values guaranteed by the First Principle of justice .  Rawls conceptualizes an effective political procedure into the basic structure of society which mirrors the fair representation of persons achieved by the original position.  Fair terms of social justice may be attained in Rawls' theory.

Source References

Rawls, John, Political Liberalism, New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1996

Hinton, Timothy J., Lecture, North Carolina State University, 1998.