University of Kansas, Spring 2003
Philosophy 555: Justice and Economic Systems

Class notes: Rawls

The following notes correspond roughly to what we cover, including at least a portion of what I put on the board or the screen, in class. In places they may be more or less comprehensive than what we actually cover in class, and should not be taken as a substitute for your own observations and records of what goes on in class.

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  1. preface
    1. p. xvii.6: vs. utilitarianism: Rawls makes it clear that he does not accept utilitarianism, and is offering his own theory as an alternative to utilitarianism. (This will be elaborated later.)
    2. p. xvii.9: vs. intuitionism: Rawls also makes it clear that he does not accept intuitionism, and means for his theory not to be a form of intuitionism. (This will also be elaborated later.)
    3. p. xviii.2: social-contract theory: Rawls regards himself as developing a more sophisticated version of the idea of the social contract, as found in Locke, Rousseau, and Kant.
  2. chapter 1: “Justice as Fairness”
    1. p. 4.7 and p. 6.3: what a conception of justice is for: assigning rights and duties and distributing benefits and burdens
    2. p. 5.4: concept vs. conception
      1. A conception is a specification of a concept; a concept presents a problem and a conception presents a solution to it (Korsgaard). See also p. 9.4–6.
      2. p. 5.3–6: The concept of justice involves the notions of arbitrariness (lack thereof) and of striking a proper balance between things; a conception of justice offers interpretations of arbitrariness and propriety.
    3. § 2: the subject of justice: the basic structure of society. This includes
      1. the way in which major social institutions distribute fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages from social cooperation
      2. the political constitution and the major economic and social arrangements
      3. examples: freedom of speech, private property, monogamous family
      4. not the activities of private associations
      5. not international relations
    4. p. 14.3: contractarian theory
      1. two parts
        1. a specification of the initial situation (Rawls’s is called the original position)
        2. a set of principles that, it is claimed, would be agreed to
      2. the scheme of the argument
        1. The original position is a fair (or otherwise morally significant) interpretation of the initial situation.
        2. The two principles that Rawls defends would be chosen in the original position.
        3. Therefore, the two principles that Rawls defends are the best conception of justice.
      3. So, one might agree with Rawls that the original position is the best interpretation of the initial situation but dispute that the principles Rawls defends would be selected there; or one might agree with Rawls that the principles he defends would be selected in the original position but dispute that the original position is a fair (or otherwise morally significant) interpretation of the initial situation. Or one might disagree with both of Rawls’s premises.
    5. pp. 16–17: the original position
      1. p. 16.3: specification of the original position
      2. p. 16.6: “weak” premises (see also pp. 111.9–112.1)
      3. p. 17.3: veil of ignorance
    6. §§ 5–6: utilitarianism
      1. considerations in favor
        1. p. 21: extension of the principle of choice for the individual to the social context
        2. pp. 21–22: defining right in terms of good (specifically, maximization of the good)
      2. objections
        1. p. 23.6: according to utilitarianism “there is no reason in principle why the greater gains of some should not compensate for the lesser losses of others; or more importantly, why the violation of the liberty of a few might not be made right by the greater good shared by many.”
        2. p. 24.7: “Utilitarianism does not take seriously the distinction between persons.”
      3. three contrasts
        1. p. 25.6: convictions about the priority of justice: sound commitment vs. social useful illusion
        2. p. 25.7: principles of justice: object of agreement vs. extension of intrapersonal principle of choice
        3. p. 26.6: principles of justice: deontological vs. teleological. (See also p. 28.1, on the priority of the right to the good.)
      4. p. 29.7: clear statement of the main contrast
    7. § 7–8: intuitionism and the priority problem
      1. p. 30.5: The essential feature of intuitionism, for Rawls, is that there are no rules for settling conflicts among moral principles. You just have to use your judgment.
      2. p. 32.7: An example of an intuitionist approach is that we need to balance equality and total welfare.
      3. p. 34.3: The problem with intuitionism is expressed here—that an intuitionist conception of justice allows different persons to arrive at different judgments, and provides no way of discriminating among them. In other words, intuitionism fails to solve the priority problem.
      4. Justice as fairness solves, or partially solves, the priority problem in three ways.
        1. by making the principles of justice an object of choice—obviously choosers will not be content to settle on anything too vague or variable, if it will be employed to regulate the basic structure of their society
        2. by putting principles in lexical order
        3. by asking narrowed questions: prudential not moral, worst-off not everyone. (More on this later.)
    8. justification
      1. reflective equilibrium: seeking a theory that meshes with our considered judgments
        1. p. 17.8: considered convictions
        2. p. 18.3: ”work from both ends”
      2. moral theory
        1. p. 42.7: not merely descriptive; this would be too conservative
        2. p. 43.2–3: Rawls’s criterion for selecting a moral theory
  3. chapter 2: “The Principles of Justice”
    1. p. 47.3: purpose of the chapter: to explain the meanings of the two principles he proposes, not to justify them. Their justification—the grounds for their selection in the original position—will come later.
    2. p. 51.1: formal justice vs. substantive justice: what’s the difference?
    3. p. 54.6: the general conception of justice
      1. equality, except when inequality benefits everyone. (How can this happen?)
      2. things measured: social values (liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the social bases of self-respect)
    4. p. 53.1–2: the special conception of justice
      1. two principles
        1. maximum equal basic liberty (see list at p. 53.5–6)
        2. social and economic inequalities to everyone’s advantage, and with positions open to all
      2. lexical (serial) order (p. 53.9)
      3. derivation from general conception: Above a certain threshold of economic development, further economic improvements are not urgent enough to justify any sacrifice of rights and liberties. (This is explained later.)
    5. §§ 12–13: four interpretations of the second principle
      1. two interpretations of “everyone’s advantage”
        1. principle of efficiency
        2. difference principle
      2. two interpretations of “positions open to all”
        1. careers open to talents
        2. equality of fair opportunity
      3. four interpretations
        1. natural liberty (1 and 1)
        2. liberal equality (1 and 2)
        3. natural aristocracy (2 and 1)
        4. democratic equality (2 and 2)
      4. careers open to talents vs. equality of fair opportunity
        1. The former provides some protections—against discrimination, etc.—but still allows individuals’ life chances to be influenced by factors that are morally arbitrary, such as what socio-economic class they’re born into.
        2. Equality of fair opportunity involves mitigating these morally arbitrary social factors (p. 63.3–9).
        3. Equality of fair opportunity is not completely attainable, because of the family (p. 64.3). But equality of fair opportunity still mitigates (relative to careers open to talents) the influence of morally arbitrary social factors.
      5. the principle of efficiency vs. the difference principle
        1. The former is extremely permissive, requiring only that resources be distributed in such a way that, in effect, there is nothing going unused. Even one person’s possessing everything counts as efficient. (See pp. 61.5–62.3.)
        2. Moreover, the former basically allows distributive shares to be determined by the “natural lottery”—the morally arbitrary distribution of innate talents and skills among various individuals in the population (p. 64.3).
        3. The difference principle requires making whoever is worst-off as well off as they can be (p. 65.7).
        4. So just as equality of fair opportunity is preferable to careers open to talents because of morally arbitrary social factors, so the difference principle is preferable to the principle of efficiency because of morally arbitrary natural factors (pp. 64.8–65.1).
    6. fair equality of opportunity
      1. lexically prior to difference principle, but lexically posterior to the first principle (p. 77.6)
      2. necessary for conceiving of distribution in terms of pure procedural justice (p. 76.3)
      3. consistent with efficiency, but this is not the justification for it (p. 73.8)
    7. pp. 74–76: kinds of procedural justice
      1. perfect procedural justice (e.g., division of a cake)
      2. imperfect procedural justice (e.g., trial of a defendant, utilitarian institutions)
      3. pure procedural justice (e.g., basic structure leading to a particular distribution)
    8. the operation of the difference principle
      1. The difference principle simplifies the problem of measuring well-being in three ways.
        1. focus on least-advantaged people—an ordinal, not cardinal, problem (p. 79.1)
        2. focus on a “representative” least-advantaged person, not the absolutely least-advantaged individual of all (p. 83.7–8)
        3. focus on primary goods, not overall well-being (p. 79.3)
      2. p. 87.3: an interpretation of the difference principle
    9. §§ 18–19: principles for individuals
      1. principle of fairness (p. 96.3)
      2. natural duties (§ 19)
        1. duty of justice (p. 99.3)
        2. “natural” duties, despite contractarian nature of theory (pp. 99.5–100.4)
  4. chapter 3: “The Original Position”
    1. preliminary considerations
      1. The original position is the specification of the initial situation that Rawls regards as philosophically favored (p. 105.3–4). Other specifications of the initial situation would not, Rawls thinks, reflect our sense of justice as well as the original position does.
      2. The idea is to characterize the original position so that pure procedural justice applies: whatever principles get chosen there are just because they are chosen there (p. 104.3–4). Note that this is separate from the way in which the distribution of rights and duties, and of the other benefits of social cooperation, is a matter of pure procedural justice.
      3. The alternatives among which the parties are to choose are given in a list (p. 107). This is because it would be extravagant to assume that they could think up all the possibilities from scratch (p. 106.1).
    2. § 22: the circumstances of justice
      1. The circumstances of justice are the background conditions of social life that create a purpose for a conception of justice to serve by making cooperation both possible and necessary (p. 109.5)
      2. These circumstances include both objective and subjective conditions.
        1. objective: people living together, plus moderate scarcity of material goods
        2. subjective: differing aims and values (conflict of interests), along with limited concern for others
    3. informational constraints (§ 24: the veil of ignorance)
      1. no knowledge of class, intelligence, strength, etc. (p. 118.5)
      2. no knowledge of conception of the good (p. 118.6)
      3. no knowledge of historical era or level of civilization (p. 118.7)
      4. knowledge of economics, sociology, psychology, etc. (p. 119.3)
      5. one result: “no basis for bargaining in the usual sense” (p. 120.9)
    4. motivational constraints (§ 25: the rationality of the parties)
      1. Each party aims to get as large a package of primary goods as it can (p. 123.6).
      2. Each party is mutually disinterested (p. 125.3; see also pp. 111.9–112.1).
        1. No party cares about promoting others’ well-being—though people may in real life, of course (p. 128.1–5).
        2. No party is motivated by envy—a desire that others should have less even if he must, too (p. 124.2).
      3. The parties want to settle on a conception of justice they can live with (p. 125.8).
    5. p. 128.9: the overall gist of the original position
    6. § 26: the case for the two principles
      1. parties’ natural starting point: equal distribution of everything (p. 130.6)
      2. why to deviate from equality (pp. 130.8–131.5)
      3. maximin rule; maximum minomorum (p. 133.2)
      4. three features justifying use of maximin
        1. no knowledge of probabilities (p. 134.1)
        2. parties care little for gains (p. 134.4)
        3. grave risks (p. 134.5)
      5. objection to maximin (p. 135.9)
      6. table showing objection to maximin (p. 134.6)
    7. §§ 27–28: the (unsuccessful) case for the average principle
      1. what the classical principle requires (p. 139.9)
      2. what the average principle requires (p. 140.2)
      3. why Rawls thinks the parties would prefer the average principle (p. 141.5)
      4. p. 142.5: This should be pi and ui, not p1 and u1.
      5. the case for the principle of average utility
      6. first objection: the parties would discount probabilities based on the principle of insufficient reason, because the decision to be made in the original position is so important: it is not a place for neutrality toward risk (p. 146.7)
      7. a second objection: the reasoning leading to the principle of average utility presupposes that the parties in the original position would be content to regard themselves as having any of the ends held by the actual people in society (p. 150.8)
    8. § 29: three advantages of the two principles over average utilitarianism
      1. The strains of commitment will be less for the two principles than for utilitarianism (pp. 153.3–154.5).
      2. The two principles will define a more stable regime (p. 154.5–155.8).
      3. The two principles will better promote self-respect (pp. 155.8–159.2).
    9. D’Agostino, “Original Position”
      1. introductory section: ‘principals’
      2. “Reflective Equilibrium”
        1. epistemological reading vs. practical reading
        2. adjustment of judgments and o.p.
      3. “Pure Proceduralism”
        1. third paragraph—‘right-maker’
        2. fourth paragraph—“no standard”
      4. “Veil of Ignorance”: two reversals, in veil, relative to ideal-spectator approach
        1. less information, not more
        2. pure self-interest, not pure impartiality (“ignorance . . . expressive of the moral demand for impartiality”)
    10. Holt, “John Rawls’ Unrisky Business”
      1. maximin vs. expected-utility maximization
      2. maximin vs. maximax
  5. chapter 4: “Equal Liberty”
    1. § 31: four-stage sequence (with incremental lifting of the veil of ignorance—pp. 175.6–176.2)
      1. original position (p. 172.6)
      2. constitutional convention (p. 172.6)
      3. legislative stage (p. 174.3)
      4. particular cases (p. 175.4)
    2. §§ 32–35: liberty of conscience and toleration
      1. one liberty to be restricted only for the sake of another (p. 179.1)
      2. compensation for unequal worth of liberties (p. 179.7)
      3. considerations in favor of liberty of conscience (p. 181.7–8)
      4. toleration except when harms are evident (p. 188.3); contrast with Aquinas (p. 189.4)
      5. requirement of tolerating the intolerant as much as the tolerant (p. 192.3)
    3. §§ 36–37: political participation
      1. public support of political campaigns (198.4–199.6)
      2. restrictions on majority rule (p. 201.7)
      3. exchanges within the system of liberties (p. 202.4)
      4. unequal liberties: plural voting as possibly justifiable (p. 204.3)
    4. § 38: the rule of law
      1. rule of law’s basis in liberty (pp. 210.4–211.1)
      2. possible infringements on the rule of law, for the sake of liberty (p. 213.3)
  6. chapter V: “Distributive Shares”
    1. Archimedian point (p. 230.3)
    2. the public sector
      1. one aspect: the extent to which the means of production are publicly owned—not in the sense in which companies “go public” by being listed on stock markets, but in the sense of being controlled by the government (p. 235.3)
      2. second aspect: public goods (p. 235.6)
      3. distinctness of the two aspects (pp. 238.9–239.2)
    3. § 43: background institutions
      1. allocation branch: ensure competitive markets (p. 244.1)
      2. stabilization branch: bring about full employment (p. 244.3)
      3. transfer branch: maintain social minimum (p. 244.4)
      4. distribution branch: levy inheritance and gift taxes, and collect taxes for revenue (p. 245.4)
      5. proportional expenditure tax (p. 246.4)
    4. §§ 44–46: intergenerational justice
      1. Rawls says it’s a misconception that the greater wealth of the rich is to be scaled down until there is rough equality (p. 252.3). This does not mean that it’s a misconception that the greater wealth of the rich is to be scaled down to the maximal advantage of the worst off. But it’s the worst off over time, not just today.
      2. modification of the original position to result in a principle of savings (pp. 254.9–255.2)
      3. rejection of time preference (p. 260.5)
      4. lexical order: liberty, opportunity, savings, difference principle (§ 46)
    5. § 47: “precepts” of justice
      1. Rawls wants to show that the implications of his theory match certain intuitions that we have about distributive justice (p. 268.4).
      2. to each according to his contribution (or training, experience, etc.) (p. 269.4)
      3. to each according to effort (or risks, etc.) (p. 269.6)
      4. So, different conceptions of justice may not differ in the common-sense precepts they imply. But they may differ in the weights they give to those precepts (p. 270.2)
      5. why a society with fair equality of opportunity would give less weight to “to each according to his contribution” (p. 270.4)
      6. more weight for effort (p. 270.7)
      7. “to each according to his need” handled by transfer branch (p. 271.8)
    6. desert—legitimate expectations and intrinsic worth (p. 273.6)
  7. chapter VI: “Duty and Obligation”
    1. §§ 51–52: principles of natural duty and fairness
      1. not contingent on voluntary acts (p. 296.5)
      2. duty of mutual respect, to increase everyone’s self-esteem (p. 297.8)
      3. duty of mutual aid—justified primarily in terms of confidence and trust, only secondarily in terms of aid actually rendered (p. 298.5)
      4. When Rawls says “all obligations arise from the principle of fairness,” he means “obligations” to refer to things assumed voluntarily (p. 301.6). Duties are not like this.
      5. how duty to keep promises arises; relation between hypothetical agreement and actual obligation to keep promises (pp. 307.6–308.3)
    2. §54: status of majority rule
      1. majority rule’s having a “subordinate place” (p. 313.1)
      2. distinction between rightness of majority’s decisions and propriety of majority rule (p. 313.5–6)
      3. no theory (p. 317.2)? see Federalist paper no. 10
    3. § 53, §§ 55–59: civil disobedience and conscientious objection
      1. duty to comply with unjust laws because in the original position, the parties would choose such a rule, because anything more fine-grained would be impractical (p. 311.6)
      2. civil disobedience
        1. pay price to demonstrate conscientiousness (p. 322.5)
        2. injustice must be clear and substantial (p. 326.8)
        3. legal redress must have failed (p. 327.8)
        4. disobedience must not result in disorder (p. 328.6)
        5. civil disobedience as a stabilizing device (p. 336.3)
      3. conscientious refusal
        1. reluctant disobedience (p. 324.5)
        2. soldier breaking rules of war (p. 333.5)
        3. individual refusing to submit to the draft (p. 334.7–9)
  8. section 87: “Concluding Remarks on Justification”
    1. first part: derivation from the original position (p. 507.7)
    2. second part: considered judgments (p. 507.8)
    3. third part: psychological feasibility (p. 508.1)
  9. Hare’s critique
    1. philosophical methodology
      1. reliance on his and his readers’ considered judgments (p. 145.4)
      2. reliance on “scores” of separate intuitions (p. 146.7)
      3. reliance on “prior consensus” on “substantive moral questions” (p. 147.3)
    2. ethical analysis
      1. (Hare is concerned about this because his work relies heavily on it.)
      2. neglect of such analysis (p. 147.6)
    3. moral methodology
      1. sufficiency of thin veil (p. 151.5); why actually so think? (p. 151.9)
      2. possibly so think in order to avoid utilitarianism? (p. 152.3)
      3. possibility of thick veil leading to undesirable outcomes (p. 154.3)
    4. normative moral questions
      1. restrictions on “membership” in the original position (and whether these give the POP’s reason to reject utilitarianism)
        1. no animals (p. 242.8)
        2. members of only one generation (p. 243.2)
        3. “representative” individuals (p. 244.3)
        4. only actually existing people (p. 244.8)
      2. the thickness of the veil
        1. contrast with thin veil (p. 246.3–4)
        2. serving no purpose; denial of principle of insufficient reason does all the work (p. 247.3)
      3. the principle of insufficient reason and aversion to risk
        1. why not use principle of insufficient reason? (p. 247.7)
        2. inconsistency about risk aversion (pp. 247.9–248.3)
      4. substantive conclusions
        1. maximin vs. insurance (p. 248.9)
        2. not maximin even in “reduced circumstances” (p. 250.2)
        3. possibility of a utilitarian basis for justice (p. 251.3)