John Rawls Theory of Justice – Criticisms, Summary, UPSC Notes

By Balaji

Updated on: March 31st, 2023

John Rawls Theory of Justice makes the case for a principled reunification of liberty and equality as the binding force behind the fundamental layout of an egalitarian societal system. This notion is reinforced by David Hume’s ideas. Furthermore, John Rawls Theory Of Justice held to the idea of “justice as fairness.” This implies that every individual must be treated with utmost dignity and respect, and it advocates for comparable basic liberties, equal treatment for similar people, and providing the most advantages to the socially disadvantaged people in society.

The John Rawls Theory Of Justice is related to the polity of India and the Indian societal framework as a whole. It is also an important concept in the Indian history of UPSC GS II. Many questions pertaining to the John Rawls Theory Of Justice have been asked in the examination over the years. It is crucial to be well-versed in the theory. Aspirants preparing for the exam must get access to the John Rawls Theory of Justice UPSC notes to be able to prepare comprehensively for the exam.

Table of content

  • 1. What is John Rawls Theory of Justice? (more)
  • 2. Principles of Justice under John Rawls Theory of Justice (more)
  • 3. Ideal and Non-Ideal Theory Stated under John Rawls Theory of Justice (more)
  • 4. Summary of John Rawls Theory of Justice (more)
  • 5. Criticism of John Rawls Theory of Justice (more)
  • 6. “Veil of Ignorance” By John Rawls (more)
  • 7. John Rawls Theory of Justice UPSC Notes (more)

What is John Rawls Theory of Justice?

A stable, fairly well-off society, as per John Rawls Theory of Justice, is a cooperative endeavor for common advantage. Together with cooperation, there is disagreement among its participants about their fair share of the costs and advantages of social living.

  • The goal of social justice concepts is to guarantee that the allocation of society’s advantages and disadvantages is equitable or fair to each of its members.
  • According to John Rawls theory of Justice, the fundamental institutions of civilization should be created in such a way that they safeguard the continuous supply of socially essential commodities to all of society’s inhabitants in a fair or proper manner.
  • Social primary goods are commodities that are divided up by a society’s general framework.
  • Rights as well as liberties, powers as well as opportunities, and income, as well as wealth, are all examples.
  • Rawls contends that the allocation of these socially essential products between many members of a society is suitable if it is done in adherence to the following justice principles he mentions.

Principles of Justice under John Rawls Theory of Justice

John Rawls theory of Justice was guided by a group of three principles. These principles included- Principle of Equal Basic Liberties, Principle of Fair Equality of Opportunity and the Difference Principle. These principles are discussed in detail in the section below:

Principle of Equal Basic Liberties

Each individual shares the same unassailable right to a completely fair and adequate arrangement of similar basic rights and liberties, a framework that is congruent with the identical scheme of freedoms for everyone.

Principle of Fair Equality of Opportunity

According to Rawls’ principle of fairness or equality in opportunity, the state must guarantee fair chances in educational, cultural, and economic aspects, in addition to providing unemployment and sick pay. These necessarily require an authoritarian welfare system to operate or assist schools, govern the economy, and so on.

Difference Principle

Inequalities that benefit the better off but disadvantage the least privileged are unrighteous, in accordance with the Difference Principle by Rawl.

Ideal and Non-Ideal Theory Stated under John Rawls Theory of Justice

For each political sub-domain, Rawls furthermore appears to pursue a pattern, namely the ideal theory prior to the non-ideal theory under the John Rawls Theory Of Justice. The Ideal theory forms two kinds of idealistic preconceptions regarding the context of the subject. Initially, ideal theory suggests that all performers (either citizens or societies) are usually prepared to adhere to any of the principles that are preferred. Thus, ideal theory idealizes the potential of breaking of the law, whether by individuals (crime) or civilizations (war).

  • Furthermore, the ideal theory of John Rawls Theory Of Justice presumes justifiably favorable social circumstances in which residents and societies can adhere to political cooperation fundamentals. Citizens are not sufficiently motivated by hunger, for instance, that their bandwidth for moral reasoning is exhausted; nor are countries battling to recover from famine or state failure.
  • According to John Rawls Theory Of Justice, accomplishing ideal theory first renders a robust understanding of how we might reconstruct our not-so-ideal world and rectifies a perspective of what is the finest that could be envisioned. After the ideal theory for a political sub-domain has been completed, a non-ideal theory can indeed be developed with regard to the ideal one.
  • For example, when we identify ideal guidelines for inhabitants who can support society throughout their lives, we will be effectively able to formulate non-ideal principles for delivering health care to residents with severe disabilities or illnesses. Correspondingly, when we comprehend the ideal aspects of public relations, people will be able to envision how the global community should behave toward unstable countries in addition to aggressive states that pose a threat to international community peace.

Summary of John Rawls Theory of Justice

The significance of Justice theory will help us configure John Rawls theory of justice. It is discussed, in-depth, in the section below:

  • The very first principle of John Rawls Theory Of Justice protects everyone’s civil rights, while the second is equivalent to ‘positive discrimination.’
  • Rawls attempts to demonstrate by envisioning a hypothetical scenario as to how such principles would be universally recognized and accepted. He thus moves towards general ethical issues.
  • He discusses the idea of a “veil of ignorance” in John Rawls Theory Of Justice.
  • It guarantees that all “players” in the context of a social game are positioned in a specific scenario. Rawls refers to the same as the “original position.”
  • Everyone in this situation has only a basic understanding of “life and society.”
  • As a result, each player must make, as quoted by him in John Rawls Theory of Justice, a “rationally prudential choice” about the type of social establishment with which they will enter into a deal or contract.
  • Given his hypotheses, Rawls contends that people might prefer liberal societies with liberties and freedoms relying on fairness and equality, albeit with due consideration for the troubles of various marginalized or disadvantaged groups.

Criticism of John Rawls Theory of Justice

Several philosophers who endorse the theory of stringent equality critiqued the book, claiming that these particular inequalities that John Rawls allows are inappropriate even though they profit the underprivileged people in society. They furthermore made the argument that enabling certain disparities infuriates the stability of a well-organized society, which Rawls discussed in his book.

Finally, because Rawls predominantly used utilitarianism to draw comparisons with his own theory, philosophers heavily criticized his John Rawls Theory of Justice book for not depicting maximum utility. They objected to the depiction of the “Difference Principle.”

“Veil of Ignorance” By John Rawls

According to John Rawls Theory Of Justice, the one and only manner to reach a reasonable and just principle are to assume ourselves in a scenario in which we must form decisions on how society should really be arranged despite not knowing which roles we would hold in that societal structure. Such that, we have no idea what type of family we will be conceived into, whether or not it is an ‘upper’ strata or a ‘lower’ caste, either rich or poor, fortunate or underprivileged.

  • John Rawls Theory of Justice contends that when we don’t recognize who we will become and what choices we will have in our futuristic society, we are more likely to support a decision about the rules and organization of that future society that is fair to all members.
  • John Rawls Theory of Justice refers to this as considering through a “veil of ignorance.” He anticipates that in this state of absolute ignorance regarding our potential role and standing in society, each individual will make decisions based on their own preferences.
  • The ‘veil of ignorance’ position has the advantage of expecting people to be their customary reasonable selves. They are considered to ponder over for themselves and pick what they believe to be in their best interests. The important thing to remember is that whenever they pick to think through the ‘veil of ignorance,’ they would discover that it is actually in their best interests to presume from the perspective of the least fortunate.
  • Having to wear an envisioned veil of ignorance is the initial step toward establishing a system of just laws and regulations. It would be obvious that rational individuals will not just observe things through the eyes of the least fortunate, but they will also strive to ensure that perhaps the guidelines they develop help society in its entirety. Both of these things should go along with one another. Because nobody knows what place they will hold in the futuristic world, each one will strive for rules that will safeguard them in the event that they are born among the poor.

As a result, it is in everyone’s best interests for society in its entirety to profit from the policies and regulations that are established, rather than just one segment. Such equality would result from rational behaviour rather than altruism or generosity.

John Rawls Theory Of Justice contends that rational thinking, instead of morality, can lead us to be impartial and equitable in deciding how to disperse a society’s advantages and responsibilities. In his illustration, there are no predetermined moral goals or standards, and we are free to choose what is best for our own selves. This conviction is what distinguishes John Rawls Theory Of Justice as an essential and intriguing approach to the issue of justice and fairness.

John Rawls Theory of Justice UPSC Notes

The John Rawls Theory Of Justice is an important segment of the UPSC syllabus. It is essential to cover the history of international polity and societal philosophy for the preparation of the UPSC syllabus. You can get access to the John Rawl Theory of Justice UPSC notes as provided here for preparing effectively for the exam.

John Rawls Theory Of Justice UPSC Notes

It is also important to cover all the aspects of the John Rawls Theory of Justice including the principles stated under the theory, ‘veil of ignorance and criticism of the theory. You can also look into the currently available UPSC study material and previous year question papers to improve your UPSC grading.

John Rawls Theory Of Justice UPSC Question

It is of high essentiality for the candidates to be well aware of all the facts and pertinents of the John Rawls Theory of Justice to be able to solve the questions easily. Solve the questions that have been provided here to be able to move ahead in the path of the selection process and land the aspired job profile.

Question: Which of the following principles are discussed by John Rawls in his theory of justice: [a] Principle of Equal Basic Liberties, [b] Principle of Fair Equality of Opportunity, [c] Difference Principle [d] All of the above

Answer: [d] All of the Above

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