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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Justice as fairness

I'm always trying to figure out what's the right thing to do and it seems so complicated. Wikipedia has a good page on Justice. There are different ways of seeing Justice - what's Just is what God commands, or what's Just is what's natural, or what's harmonious, etc. I like best the idea that what's Just is what's fair, and by that I do not mean 'giving people what they deserve'. Science has shown that people and animals as well have brains wired to prefer fairness, and it may well be that I have an especially atavistic brain, but I realized that my belief that what's Just is what's fair is so deeply held that I even judge God by it.

One of the best examples of the idea of justice as fairness was presented by John Rawls in his book A Theory of Justice.

Harvard philosopher John Rawls (1921-2002 ) developed a conception of justice as fairness in his now classic work A Theory of Justice . Using elements of both Kantian and utilitarian philosophy, he has described a method for the moral evaluation of social and political institutions.

Imagine that you have set for yourself the task of developing a totally new social contract for today's society. How could you do so fairly? Although you could never actually eliminate all of your personal biases and prejudices, you would need to take steps at least to minimize them. Rawls suggests that you imagine yourself in an original position behind a veil of ignorance . Behind this veil, you know nothing of yourself and your natural abilities, or your position in society. You know nothing of your sex, race, nationality, or individual tastes. Behind such a veil of ignorance all individuals are simply specified as rational, free, and morally equal beings. You do know that in the "real world", however, there will be a wide variety in the natural distribution of natural assets and abilities, and that there will be differences of sex, race, and culture that will distinguish groups of people from each other.

In this original position , behind the veil of ignorance, what will the rational choice be for fundamental principles of society? The only safe principles will be fair principles, for you do not know whether you would suffer or benefit from the structure of any biased institutions. Indeed the safest principles will provide for the highest minimum standards of justice in the projected society.

- Justice as Fairness

Or we could just listen to a song :) ....


Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Ah, I love Joan Baez. Thanks, Crystal. I listened to it just after finishing with the homily at 5:00 p.m. Mass. Good transition!

6:26 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


I like her too - such a nice voice :)

10:03 PM  
Blogger victor said...

I must confess that I have not heard too many of the material that she sings but what I have heard I loved cause I find her down to earth with lot's of country soul spirit in "IT".

I hear ya! And you also don't read The Bible Victor. Maybe you should give "IT" a try! :)


3:14 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Victor :)

6:54 PM  

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