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John Rawls on Justice - Dictionary of Arguments

I 3
Justice/Rawls: justice is the first virtue of social institutions, just like truth is for thought systems.
Justice as an untrue theory must be rejected or revised, laws and institutions must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust. Each person has an inviolability based on justice that cannot be overridden even by the welfare of a society as a whole. Therefore, a loss of the freedom of some cannot be offset by a greater good, which is given to several. (RawlsVsUtilitarianism, RawlsVsSinger, Peter)
I 4
The rights guaranteed by justice are not the subject of political negotiation or social interests. Just as the acceptance of a faulty theory is only justified by the absence of a better theory, injustice is only tolerable if necessary to avoid greater injustice.
To investigate whether these too strong claims are justified, we must develop a theory of justice.
I 5
Justice/Society/Rawls: although people are at odds about which principles to accept, we still assume that they all have an idea of justice. That is, they understand that such principles are necessary to determine basic rights and obligations and to monitor their distribution. Therefore, it seems reasonable to contrast a concept of justice with different notions of justice.
I 6
Justice/Rawls: justice cannot stop at distribution justice. It must become a feature of social institutions.
I 54/55
Justice/Principles/Rawls: the principles of justice are very different depending on whether they apply to individuals or institutions.
I 310
Justice/Idealization/RawlsVsLeibniz/RalwsVsRoss, W. D. /Rawls: one should not equate or try to define justice with an "ideal happiness"(1)(2). The theory of justice as fairness rejects such ideas. Such a principle would not be adopted in the initial situation. Such criteria could not be defined there.
I 311
What people are entitled to is not measured by intrinsic value. The moral value does not depend on supply and demand. When certain services are no longer in demand, moral merit does not decrease equally.
I 312
The concept of moral value does not provide a first principle of distributive justice. The moral value can be defined as a sense of justice when the principles of justice are available.

(1) Cf. W. D. Ross, The Right and the Good (Oxford, 1930), pp. 21,26-28,57f.
(2) Leibniz, „On the Ultimate Origin of Things“ (1697) ed. P.P. Wiener (New York, 1951), p. 353.
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Gaus I 94
Justice/Rawls/Waldron: Diversity/inhomogeneity/society/Rawls: ‘[H]ow is it possible,’ Rawls asked, ‘for there to exist over time a just and stable society of free and equal citizens who remain profoundly divided by reasonable religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines?’ (1993(2): 4).
Gaus I 95
Waldron: The key (...) is to insist that an acceptable theory of justice, T, must be such that, among whatever reasons there are for rejecting T or disagreeing with T, none turn on T’s commitment to a particular conception of value or other comprehensive philosophical conception. >Individualism/Rawls, >Rawls/Waldron.
Problems: (...) there are further questions about how [a] threshold test should be understood. One possibility is that T represents an acceptable modus vivendi for the adherents of the various comprehensive conceptions {C1, C2, …, Cn }. Like a treaty that puts an end to conflict between previously hostile powers, T may be presented as the best that C1 can hope for in the way of a theory of justice given that it has to coexist with C2, …, Cn , and the best that C2 can hope for given that it has to coexist with C1, C3 ,…, Cn , and so on. Rawls, however, regards this as unsatisfactory as a basis for a conception of justice. It leaves T vulnerable to demographic changes or other changes in the balance of power between rival comprehensive conceptions, a vulnerability that is quite at odds with the steadfast moral force that we usually associate with justice (1993(1): 148).
Solution/Rawls: Instead Rawls develops the idea that T should represent an overlapping moral consensus among {C1 , C2, … , Cn }. By this he means that T could be made acceptable on moral grounds to the adherents of C1, and acceptable on moral grounds to the adherents of C2, and so on.
Diversity/Toleration//Locke/Kant/Rawls/Waldron: Thus, for example, the proposition that religious toleration is required as a matter of justice may be affirmed by Christians on Lockean grounds having to do with each person’s individualized responsibility to God for his own religious beliefs, by secular Lockeans on the grounds of unamenability of belief to coercion, by Kantians on the grounds of the high ethical
Gaus I 96
importance accorded to autonomy, by followers of John Stuart Mill on the basis of the importance of individuality and the free interplay of ideas, and so on. >Toleration/Locke.
Waldron: Whether this actually works is an issue we considered when we discussed Ackerman’s approach to neutrality. >Neutrality/Waldron, >Overlapping consensus/Rawls.


1. Rawls, John (1993) Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Waldron, Jeremy 2004. „Liberalism, Political and Comprehensive“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Rawl I
J. Rawls
A Theory of Justice: Original Edition Oxford 2005

Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-05-12
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