University of Kansas, Spring 2004
Philosophy 555: Justice and Economic Systems

Class notes: Rawls, chapter 2: “The Principles of Justice”

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. purpose of the chapter: to explain the meanings of the two principles he proposes, not to justify them (p. 47.3). Their justification—the grounds for their selection in the original position—will come later.
  2. 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)