In his book “A Theory of Justice“ John Rawls gives a hypothesis of justice, which depends on two standards. Rawls starts with the explanation that “justice is the first virtue of social institution”, implying that a decent society is the one, which is organized by the rule of equity.
He develops his theory of social justice based on the notion of the social contract among hypothetical individuals to create an ideal society.
Rawls begins his theory by assuming a hypothetical situation of primordial equality between reasonable persons, which is known as “original position”. In the original position, everyone decides the principles of justice from behind a “veil of ignorance”.
According to Rawls behind this veil, all individuals are specified as rational, free, and morally equal beings. They don’t know anything of themselves, their natural abilities, or their set position in society. They have no idea of their sex, race, religion, etc.
The veil is the one that essentially binds people together so that no one can design the principles in their own favor. According to Rawls in the original position, people would choose two fundamental principles in assigning the distribution of goods in society.
Principles of Justice:
The first principle is known as “equal liberty principle”. It states that each person has an equal right to the most basic liberty. This principle guarantees basic political and liberties such as freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, the right to hold personal property, etc.
The second fundamental principle has two parts. The first part of the second principle is known as “fair equality of opportunity principles, which states that there should be an equality of opportunity, so that people are not prevented from attaining higher education and position based on arbitrary social contingencies such as class and social position.
Everyone should have equal and same opportunity to make wealth, work and govern in public office.
The second part of the second principle is known as the “difference principle”. The difference principle governs the distribution of goods, income and wealth, position, responsibilities, power, etc.
It holds that inequalities in the distribution of these goods are just, only if it benefits the least well off position of the society. In other words, any economic and social inequalities that are permitted in society should only be permitted if it maximizes the benefit of the least advantage of society.
As per the difference principle, it is just for say a doctor to earn higher salaries as s/he would be providing services to everyone, which will benefit the least advantage member of the society as well.
Rawls difference principle is at least some sense an egalitarian one with a proviso that equality is not to be achieved by worsening the position of least advantage members in the society.
Rawls’ contention for the difference principle is based on the premise that citizens have as their highest interest two moral powers.
The primary power is the capacity to follow up on the standards of Justice.
The subsequent power is the capacity to hold, change and pursue an origination of products.