Social Contract Theory… or why I love Rawls…



Some people are rich, others aren’t — some people have talents that society rewards with money, others don’t.

Rawls thought this was pretty freaking unfair — to put it bluntly.  SO, he decided to take Social Contract Theory to a new level...

The problem, as he saw it, with Hobbes’ formulation is that it put people in unequal situations when it wasn’t their fault–  the result is injustice in society.

So, how to determine what is just or fair within a society?

A few grounding assumptions…

  1. Justice is something that comes from, and is experienced IN a society of rational, self-interested persons.
  2. Our own place in society will influence what we think is ‘fair’.
  3. IF we want to create a fair society, we need to start with some basic concepts of fairness..

So, how to get there — that’s when the Original Position comes into play.  IF a group of rational, self-interested persons were striped of their individual place/role in society, they would retain general information about what makes for a good life for a person, but they won’t know their own individual roles in society — and thus they can come up with some guiding principles.

What ARE those principles, you might ask? They would be the Principles of Justice.  The first one is about freedoms (negative rights) — the right to make your own decisions about how to live your life, how much to participate in religion or politics etc.

The second principle has two parts — one that mandates fair and equal opportunity (non-discrimination) and one that says that, when resolving a conflict, the greatest benefit should go to the persons with the least.. (positive rights).

The idea then is that we ought to structure society to comply with these principles.  That’s easier said than done and the result is something like the Socialist Democratic countries in Scandinavia…



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