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The concept of utility does not play a fundamental role in justice as fairness. Where other theories, most notably utilitarianism, rely on utility, justice as fairness relies on primary goods. It does so in two related places: the motivation of the parties in the original position and the content of the principles.
Rawls distinguishes “classic utilitarianism” from “average utilitarianism.” The former is a teleological theory which requires the maximization of aggregate utility. Average utilitarianism, in contrast, “directs society to maximize not the total but the average utility (per capita)” (TJ 140). While Rawls associates classical utilitarianism with the idea of a “rational and impartial sympathetic spectator,” he argues that average utilitarianism would be chosen by an individual in an initial choice situation similar but not identical to the original position. The justifications of these two forms of utilitarianism, he holds, are quite different: “while the average principle of utility is the ethic of a single rational individual (with no aversion to risk) who tries to maximize his own prospects, the classical doctrine is the ethic of perfect altruists” (TJ 164–165).
Rawls’s principles of justice are designed to be applied to the institutions of the basic structure of society. An institution, for Rawls, is “a public system of rules which deine ofices and positions with their rights and duties, powers and immunities, and the like” (TJ 47). So the principles of justice aim to identify principles to be used in determining when these public rules are just. But even if the institutional rules are not fully just, the institutions may still realize formal justice. This is achieved when there is “impartial and consistent administration of laws and institutions, whatever their substantive principles” (TJ 51). Rawls follows Sidgwick in holding that “this sort of equality is implied in the very notion of a law or institution, once it is thought of as a scheme of general rules” (TJ 51). In the case of legal institutions, it is an aspect of the rule of law, which also includes elements such as generality, publicity, and due process. Rawls does not explicitly address whether these elements are also part of formal justice, but he does suggest the use of the phrase “justice as regularity” for the “regular and impartial, and in this sense fair, administration of law” (TJ 207).
As Rawls defines it, “intuitionism” is the doctrine that holds that there is “a plurality of first principles which may conflict to give contrary directives in particular cases,” and that there is “no explicit method, no priority rules, for weighing these principles against one another: we are simply to strike a balance by intuition, by what seems to us most nearly right” (TJ 30). Our pre-philosophical moral sense is intuitionistic, as we rely on “groups of rather specific precepts, each group applying to a particular problem of justice” (TJ 31). We use these various common-sense precepts intuitively to determine things like a fair wage, just taxation, and appropriate punishments. Justice as fairness holds that since an intuitionistic theory does not assign weights to its various precepts, it is “but half a conception” (TJ 37). On the other hand, because justice as fairness aims to describe our moral sense in reflective equilibrium, and because the various precepts are intuitively plausible, Rawls wants to explain how justice as fairness captures their plausibility, even if none can properly be elevated to the position of the sole standard of justice.
In a theory of justice, Rawls observes that “There is a tendency for common sense to suppose that income and wealth, and the good things in life generally, should be distributed according to moral desert. Justice is happiness according to virtue.” However, he continues, “justice as fairness rejects this conception” (TJ 273).While Rawls’s so-called “rejection of desert” is well known, what exactly he is rejecting and why is often misunderstood.
The first thing to note is that Rawls uses the term “desert” more narrowly than is common. Ordinarily, the grounds on which we might say that someone deserves something are very wide: a worker deserves a raise for her hard work and loyalty, a student deserves an A because he answered all of the questions correctly, a team deserves to win for playing well, a criminal deserves to be punished for breaking the law, etc. But Rawls is interested in a single, narrow use: the idea that as a matter of justice, individuals’ entitlements should be determined by their degree of moral virtue. He signals this narrow use by typically using the term “moral desert” (as above) and associating it with the idea of “virtue” (as above), and by contrasting it with the broader idea of “deserving in the ordinary sense” (TJ 64; cf. 276).
Thomas Pogge (b. 1953) is the Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University. He wrote his dissertation at Harvard under the direction of Rawls, and became a close friend, as well as interpreter and critic of Rawls’s work. Pogge is very prolific, and his work spans many areas of political philosophy, with an emphasis on issues of global justice.
Pogge’s first book was Realizing Rawls (1989), in which he argues that Rawls’s “focus on the basic structure, combined with the priority concern for the least advantaged, makes Rawls a radical thinker” (Pogge 1989, 9). In the first part, he offers an interpretation of justice as fairness that responds to critics Nozick and Sandel. In the second part, he provides a reconstruction and defense of the two principles of justice, while offering criticisms of his own. For example, he doubts that Rawls adequately justified his claim that the lexical priority of the first principle over the second necessarily provides guidance for the relative urgency of reforms in nonideal conditions, and he rejects Rawls’s argument that the difference principle should not be formally incorporated into a just society’s constitution. The third part of the book represents the first step of an ambitious project to extend justice as fairness to apply to the global order. Pogge rejects “the dogma of absolute sovereignty, the belief that a juridical state (as distinct from a lawless state of nature) presupposes an authority of last resort” (Pogge 1989, 216). Instead, he suggests a model analogous to federalism, in which authority is dispersed among different levels.
G.A. (“Jerry”) Cohen (1941–2009) was a Canadian philosopher and the Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford from 1985–2008. Cohen was born into a Communist Jewish family in Montreal, where his “upbringing was as intensely political as it was antireligious” (Cohen 2000, 22). He received his BA from McGill University in Politics and Philosophy in 1961, and then his BPhil in philosophy at Oxford, where he studied with Gilbert Ryle. Cohen’s irst book, published in 1978, was Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence. This became a central work among the so-called “Analytical Marxists” who, in the 1980s, sought to apply the tools of analytic philosophy to critically reconstruct the insights and approaches of Karl Marx. While there was – and is – a debate concerning whether Marx’s theory implicitly relies on normative principles of justice or rejects such moralizing, in the introduction to a collection of his essays published in 1995, Cohen writes that he never had any doubt: “I did not think that Marxists could be indifferent to justice. On the contrary: I was certain that every committed Marxist was exercised by the injustice of capitalist exploitation, and that Marxists who affected unconcern about justice, from Karl Marx down, were kidding themselves” (Cohen 1995, 2–3).
John (Jack) Bordley Rawls was born on February 21, 1921, in Baltimore, MD. His father, William Lee Rawls, was a self-taught lawyer who had managed a successful career and achieved some political inluence. His mother, Anna Abell Stump Rawls, though primarily a homemaker, was politically active on her own as well. She was also an artist. Of the two parents, Rawls was closer to his mother.
Rawls had four brothers, one older and three younger. Two of his younger brothers died in childhood, both from infectious diseases that then claimedmany more lives than today. In 1928, Rawls was ill with diphtheria.His closest younger brother and “great companion” Bobby contracted the disease from him and died. Only a year later, Rawls was ill with pneumonia after having his tonsils removed. His next youngest brother Tommy then came down with pneumonia and did not survive. Very shortly after, Rawls developed a stutter that would be with him to one degree or another for the rest of his life. The stutter forced him as a university professor meticulously to handwrite out and then read his lectures, a discipline that, especially when conjoined with constant and wide reading and an inability to resist the temptation to revise lectures in the light thereof, contributed to his immense and deep learning. All too cognizant of the risks of error when it comes to self-understanding, Rawls neither afirmed nor denied claims linking his stutter to a sense of guilt over his brothers’ deaths, though he allowed that their deaths no doubt affected him profoundly.
In a theory of justice, Rawls defines a “sense of justice” as a moral sentiment that involves “an effective desire to apply and to act from the principles of justice and so from the point of view of justice” (TJ 497). In a well-ordered society, this entails “an effective desire to comply with the existing rules and to give one another that to which they are entitled” (TJ 274–275). It also requires that we “do our part in maintaining these arrangements” and that we are willing “to work for (or at least not to oppose) the setting up of just institutions, and for the reform of existing ones when justice requires it . . . And this inclination goes beyond the support of those particular schemes that have affirmed our good” (TJ 415). This moral sentiment is essential for the stability of a well-ordered society, and its presence underwrites the equal status of citizens. Indeed, one way to understand the project of developing a theory of justice, as Rawls understands it, is as an attempt to characterize one’s sense of justice in reflective equilibrium.
Rawls’s conception of justice does not directly address our treatment of the environment. As a theory of social justice, and not a comprehensive account of morality, it focuses primarily on the basic structure of society. His main goal is to develop principles to regulate the shared institutions of a democratic society in which individuals are understood to be free and equal, reasonable and rationalmoral persons. Rawls apparently assumed that nonhuman animals lack the two moral powers necessary for full participation in a scheme of social cooperation. (This is not controversial for the vast majority of species.) Therefore, he assumed that reciprocity of social justice was not owed to them. This is emphatically not to say, however, that they are beyond moral consideration. As he observes in A Theory of Justice, while animals are not owed the rights of persons under his principles of social justice,
it does not follow that there are no requirements at all in regard to them, nor in our relations with the natural order. Certainly it is wrong to be cruel to animals and the destruction of a whole species can be a great evil. The capacity for feelings of pleasure and pain and for the forms of life of which animals are capable clearly imposes duties of compassion and humanity in their case. I shall not attempt to explain these considered beliefs. They are outside the scope of the theory of justice, and it does not seem possible to extend the contract doctrine so as to include them in a natural way. A correct conception of our relations to animals and to nature would seem to depend upon a theory of the natural order and our place in it. (TJ 448)