Ian Mulvany

April 29, 2023

Rawls - in our time.

This was another great episode of in our time about Rawls’ theory of justice. 

This is what I learnt: 

•  he was a fully 20th century philosopher, born 1921, died 2002. For sone reason I’d always assumed that he was 19th century. 
•  the podcast points to the death of his two brothers at an early age, and his experiences of fighting in the Second World War, as key drivers of his later thinking. 
•  He was able to return to further study because of the GI bill. 
•  Many folk now argue with his work but one of the presenters pointed out that this is because of the enormous importance and influence of the work. 

I’d known about his thoughts on the veil of ignorance as a way of thinking from first principles about how to come to a position on how on structure a fair society, but many of his other core ideas I’d not been exposed to. 

GPT gave me a summary of them: 

1.  The Veil of Ignorance: To derive principles of justice, Rawls suggests that we should imagine ourselves in the "original position," a hypothetical situation where individuals are unaware of their personal characteristics (e.g., race, gender, social status, talents, etc.). This "veil of ignorance" prevents people from designing principles that favor their own circumstances, ensuring impartiality.

2.  The Two Principles of Justice: Rawls argues that rational individuals behind the veil of ignorance would agree on two fundamental principles of justice:

   a. Principle of Equal Basic Liberties: Each person has an equal right to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for all. These liberties include freedom of speech, conscience, assembly, and the right to vote, among others.

   b. Difference Principle: Social and economic inequalities are allowed only if they benefit the least advantaged members of society. This principle permits inequalities if they arise from positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.

3.  Fair Equality of Opportunity: Rawls emphasizes that everyone should have a fair chance to compete for positions of power and wealth, regardless of their social background. This principle ensures that people's prospects in life are not determined by their social circumstances but by their own talents and efforts.

4.  Priority of Liberty: Rawls contends that the first principle of justice (equal basic liberties) has priority over the second principle (difference principle and fair equality of opportunity). This means that any attempt to improve the well-being of the least advantaged members of society cannot be achieved at the expense of basic liberties.

5.  Reflective Equilibrium: To determine whether a set of principles is just, Rawls proposes the method of "reflective equilibrium," which involves comparing and adjusting our moral intuitions and theoretical principles until they reach a state of coherence.

These key ideas from Rawls' "Theory of Justice" have had a lasting impact on political philosophy and the broader discourse on social justice, providing a framework for evaluating the fairness of social institutions and political arrangements.

If you want to dig into in our time episodes more there is a fantastic site that allows you to explore the archive in all sorts of ways:   https://genmon.github.io/braggoscope/ 

About Ian Mulvany

Hi, I'm Ian - I work on academic publishing systems. You can find out more about me at mulvany.net. I'm always interested in engaging with folk on these topics, if you have made your way here don't hesitate to reach out if there is anything you want to share, discuss, or ask for help with!