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Justice As Fairness: A Restatement

Justice as Fairness: A Restatement is a 2001 book of political philosophy by the philosopher John Rawls, published as a restatement of his 1971 classic A Theory of Justice (1971).[1] The restatement was made largely in response to the significant number of critiques and essays written about Rawls's 1971 book on this subject. The released book was edited by Erin Kelly while Rawls was in declining health during his final years.

Justice as Fairness: A Restatement

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Justice as Fairness is a revision of Rawls's A Theory of Justice (1971). Rawls is responding to criticism as well as adding further thought to his earlier A Theory of Justice. It was written shortly before his death in 2002. In part I, he discusses several fundamental ideas, all of which are familiar to a reader of his earlier book as well as Political Liberalism (1995): a well-ordered society; the basic structure of society; the original position; free and equal persons; public justification; reflective equilibrium; and overlapping consensus. In part II, he moves on to his principles of justice, revising them from his earlier edition, which now read (p. 42):

Rawls holds that the first three "[violate] the two principles of justice in at least one way" (p. 137), thus leaving only (4) property-owning democracy and (5) liberal socialism as the "ideal descriptions" that include "arrangements designed to satisfy the two principles of justice" (p. 138). In part V he explains why political liberalism is not only possible, but why it is not utopian thinking to believe that such a society is possible.

Looking primarily at the twentieth-century United States, he is certain that institutions within US society are causing injustices. The very expensive campaign system essentially rules out all but the very rich from even deciding to run for public office. The expense of healthcare restricts the best care to those who can afford it, leaving the poor to only the most basic of services.

This book originated as lectures for a course on political philosophy that Rawls taught regularly at Harvard in the 1980s. In time the lectures became a restatement of his theory of justice as fairness, revised in light of his more recent papers and his treatise Political Liberalism (1993). As Rawls writes in the preface, the restatement presents "in one place an account of justice as fairness as I now see it, drawing on all [my previous] works." He offers a broad overview of his main lines of thought and also explores specific issues never before addressed in any of his writings.Rawls is well aware that since the publication of A Theory of Justice in 1971, American society has moved farther away from the idea of justice as fairness. Yet his ideas retain their power and relevance to debates in a pluralistic society about the meaning and theoretical viability of liberalism. This book demonstrates that moral clarity can be achieved even when a collective commitment to justice is uncertain.

John Rawls, professor of philosophy at Harvard University, had published a number of articles on the concept of justice as fairness before the appearance of his magnum opus, A Theory of Justice (1971). While the articles had won for Rawls considerable prestige, the reception of his book thrust him into the front ranks of contemporary moral philosophy. Presenting a Kantian alternative to conventional utilitarianism and intuitionism, Rawls offers a theory of justice that is contractual and that rests on principles that he alleges would be accepted by free, rational persons in a state of nature, that is, of equality. The chorus of praise was loud and clear. Stuart Hampshire acclaimed the book as "the most substantial and interesting contribution to moral philosophy since the war."H. A. Bedau declared: "As a work of close and original scholarship in the service of the dominant moral and political ideology of our civilization, Rawls's treatise is simply without a rival." Rawls historically achieved two important things: (1) He articulated a coherent moral philosophy for the welfare state, and (2) he demonstrated that analytic philosophy was most capable of doing constructive work in moral philosophy. A Theory of Justice has become the most influential work in political, legal, and social philosophy by an American author in the twentieth century.

John Rawls (b. 1921, d. 2002) was an American political philosopher inthe liberal tradition. His theory of justice as fairnessdescribes a society of free citizens holding equal basic rights andcooperating within an egalitarian economic system. His theory ofpolitical liberalism explores the legitimate use of politicalpower in a democracy, and envisions how civic unity might enduredespite the diversity of worldviews that free institutions allow. Hiswritings on the law of peoples set out a liberal foreignpolicy that aims to create a permanently peaceful and tolerantinternational order.

A political conception is not derived from any particularcomprehensive doctrine, nor is it a compromise among the worldviewsthat happen to exist in society at the moment. Rather, a politicalconception is freestanding: its content is set out independently ofthe comprehensive doctrines that citizens affirm. Reasonable citizens,who want to cooperate with one another on mutually acceptable terms,will see that a freestanding political conception generated from ideasin the public political culture is the only basis for cooperation thatall citizens can reasonably be expected to endorse. The use ofcoercive political power guided by the principles of a politicalconception of justice will therefore be legitimate.

The three most fundamental ideas that Rawls finds in the publicpolitical culture of a democratic society are that citizens arefree and equal, and that society should be afair system of cooperation. All liberal political conceptionsof justice will therefore be centered on interpretations of thesethree fundamental ideas.

These abstract features must, Rawls says, be realized in certain kindsof institutions. He mentions several demands that all liberalconceptions of justice will make on institutions: a decentdistribution of income and wealth; fair opportunities for allcitizens, especially in education and training; government as theemployer of last resort; basic health care for all citizens; andpublic financing of elections.

Political power is used legitimately in a liberal society when it isused in accordance with a political conception of justice. Yet thechallenge of stability remains. Legitimacy means that the law may beenforced, but Rawls still needs to explain why citizens are willing toabide by it. If citizens do not believe that they have reasons toabide by the law from within their own perspectives, social order maydisintegrate.

Rawls places his hopes for social stability on an overlappingconsensus. In an overlapping consensus, citizens all endorse acore set of laws for different reasons. In Rawlsian terms, eachcitizen supports a political conception of justice for reasonsinternal to her own comprehensive doctrine.

Rawls does not assert that an overlapping consensus is achievable inevery liberal society. Nor does he say that, once established, anoverlapping consensus must forever endure. Citizens in some societiesmay have too little in common to converge on a liberal politicalconception of justice. In other societies, unreasonable doctrines mayspread until they overwhelm liberal institutions.

The public values that citizens must be able to appeal to arethe values of a political conception of justice: those related to thefreedom and equality of citizens, and society as a fair system ofcooperation over time. Among such public values are the freedom ofreligious practice, the political equality of women and of racialminorities, the efficiency of the economy, the preservation of ahealthy environment, and the stability of the family (which helps theorderly reproduction of society from one generation to the next).Nonpublic values include values internal to associations like churches(e.g., that women may not hold the highest offices) or private clubs(e.g., that racial minorities can be excluded) which cannot be squaredwith public values such as these.

The duty to abide by public reason applies when the mostfundamental political issues are at stake: issues such as whohas the right to vote, which religions are to be tolerated, who willbe eligible to own property, and what are suspect classifications fordiscrimination in hiring decisions. These are what Rawls callsconstitutional essentials and matters of basic justice.Public reason applies more weakly, if at all, to less momentouspolitical questions, for example to most laws that set rates oftaxation, or that put aside public money to maintain nationalparks.

Rawls constructs justice as fairness around specific interpretationsof the ideas that citizens are free and equal, and that society shouldbe fair. He sees it as resolving the tensions between the ideas offreedom and equality, which have been highlighted both by thesocialist critique of liberal democracy and by the conservativecritique of the modern welfare state. Rawls also argues that justiceas fairness is superior to the dominant tradition in modern politicalthought: utilitarianism.

The first principle affirms that all citizens should have the familiarbasic rights and liberties: liberty of conscience and freedom ofassociation, freedom of speech and liberty of the person, the rightsto vote, to hold public office, to be treated in accordance with therule of law, and so on. The first principle accords these rights andliberties to all citizens equally. Unequal rights would not benefitthose who would get a lesser share of the rights, so justice requiresequal rights for all, in all normal circumstances.

So, for example, if we assume that natural endowments and thewillingness to use them are evenly distributed across children borninto different social classes, then within any type of occupation(generally specified) we should find that roughly one quarter ofpeople in that occupation were born into the top 25% of the incomedistribution, one quarter were born into the second-highest 25% of theincome distribution, one quarter were born into the second-lowest 25%,and one-quarter were born into the lowest 25%. Since class of originis a morally arbitrary fact about citizens, justice does not allowclass of origin to turn into unequal opportunities for education ormeaningful work. 041b061a72

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