Rawls’s Theory Notes for November 26

Main points

We talked about the machinery of Rawls’s theory.

I said that Rawls’s chief aim was to provide a systematic alternative to utilitarianism. After describing the features of the original position, I discussed the significance of Rawls’s decision to focus on what he called the basic structure of society. I added that his publicity condition is not as obvious as he believed, as Sidgwick, for one, denied it.

The circumstances of justice

Naomi rightly pointed out that people stuck in conditions of extreme scarcity (or abundance) would not be in the circumstances of justice. That means that Rawls’s theory does not say anything about how they should distribute their extremely scarce goods.

Jared raised some related questions about the limits of Rawls’s theory. Could it answer questions about, say, whether one unit of the army can be sacrificed for the sake of the whole army?

Key concepts

  1. The original position
  2. The veil of ignorance
  3. Why Rawls thought so much information had to be excluded by the veil of ignorance in order to make the decision in the original position a fair one.
This page was written by Michael Green for Social & Political Philosophy, Philosophy 33, Fall 2012. It was posted November 26, 2012.
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