Explainer: Rawl’s Theory of Justice

Who was John Rawls?

Born on February 21,1921, in Maryland, John Rawls attended school in Baltimore. Rawls pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree at Princeton University, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1943. Immediately after graduating from Princeton University, he served in the military between 1943 and 1946. After his military service, Rawls returned to Princeton in 1946 for his doctorate in Moral Philosophy.

Rawls is recognized as an American moral and political philosopher, and he authored “A Theory of Justice” in 1971, “Political Liberalism” in 1993, “Justice as Fairness: A Restatement” in 2002, among other books. He’s been referred to as the most important ethics and political philosopher of the 20th century.

What is A Theory of Justice?

Theory of Justice was being published in 1971 by American moral and political philosopher John Rawls. Every theory has its motive of development in the society, likewise theory of justice aims to attempt to resolve the problem of distributive justice in society. Rawls was in disagreement to the traditional philosophical arguments on what constitutes a just institution, and the justification for social actions and policies. The utilitarianism doctrine hold a theoretical argument that society should pursue the greatest good for the greatest number, an argument that is consistent with the idea of the tyranny or despotism of majorities over minorities.

In short, there are two points which defines the theory of justice:

  • The basis of a society is a set of tacit agreements. [“social contract”]
  • The agreed-upon principles must not be dependent on one’s place in society.

Rawls believed that rational, self-interested people with roughly similar needs would choose the following two principles to guide their moral interactions 

The pictorial graph of distribution of resources mentioned above clearly depicts the problem of justice in the society mentioned by John Rawls in opposed to utilitarianism.

In opposing the utilitarian arguments, Rawls tried to set up an impartial model of social justice primarily based totally at the social contract technique. The social settlement technique holds that society is in a shape of settlement with all the ones inside the society. The technique originated from an 18th-century philosophical and intellectual motion known as the Age of Enlightenment.

The motion assumes that individuals of a society have consented to give up a number of their freedoms and put up to the authority of the ruler in alternate for the protection of social rights and the safety in their final rights. Rawls opines the concept of justice as fairness, and he identifies social justice as the first feature of social institutions.

*Quick Summary

  • John Rawls developed a Theory of Justice based on the social contract agreement theory which defines equal distribution of resources.
  • Rawls was in the favour of equal distribution of resources should be the desirable state of nature, as opposed to following utilitarian philosophies.
  • A Theory of Justice holds that every individual should have the right to active participation in enjoyment of his/her basic rights, liberties, and that they should have the right to different and diversified opportunities and an equal chance as other individuals of similar ability.

Original Position

When he developed the theory of justice principles, the “starting position” was used as an artificial means. This device creates a hypothetical situation where members of the population can reach a consensus agreement on resource allocation without having to consider that either party has an advantage over thought experiments. The thought experiment leads to the ideal state among the group members.

The man behind the veil of ignorance. The veil is a condition that prevents people from realizing all their personal characteristics (such as age, race, gender, and income level), so people without the veil can agree to principles that benefit them. Rawls proposes a starting point that reflects the principles of justice that will exist in society based on the free and fair interaction between some people, such as privileges and talents. Ensure the safety of disadvantaged groups, disadvantaged groups and the disabled, because the former are in a better position when they are in a natural state. Forcing disadvantaged groups to invalidate contractual agreements that may exist in the natural state.

The two Principles of Justice:

John Rawls developed two principles of justice that self-developed, self-interested and rational thinking individuals would choose when separated by the veil of ignorance.

  1. Principle of Equal Liberty

The principle of equality and freedom is the first principle of justice that emerged from the original position and stipulates that all citizens enjoy the same rights of basic freedoms. According to Rawls, basic freedoms include the right of conscience, the right of opinion, the right of association and the right to democracy. Rawls increased personal property rights, which is one of the basic freedoms that people should enjoy, and the government must not violate or change this freedom. However, it excludes the absolute right of unlimited personal property, which is part of the basic freedom that people should enjoy.

2. Principle of Equal Opportunity-

The principle of equality states that the organization of economic principles should meet two requirements: first, the least privileged people in society should get more benefits; second, economic inequality must be organized in a way that no one is affected. Rawls believes that all people in society should have equal opportunities and opportunities like other people with similar natural abilities.

Rawls’ justification for this choice of principles.

*How are these principles to be chosen?

From the “starting position” behind the “veil of ignorance”

You know what you will be like in society, but there are no details about gender, religion, economic class, etc. He believes that these are principles for a rationally interested person to choose whether he is in the “starting position” behind the “veil of ignorance.”


Reject utilitarianism He rejected Bentham’s concept.

Self-esteem is the publicly acknowledged spread of fundamental rights and freedoms. The relationship between freedom and equality must have an ideal relationship between the two.


Once his theory is broad than suddenly it is too narrow.

  • Rawl’s theory of Justice is criticized on the ground that justice as fairness rejects the conception of the individuals underlying beliefs and practices.


In making this project, we all witnessed a major focus on justice by John Rawls like Principle of justice as fairness when comes close to society or surroundings, for it meets the requirement the two principles which free and equal persons would assent to under circumstances that are fair .

Then justice as fairness would succeeds reasonably well.

Author: Archismaan Tyagi from UPES, Dehradun.

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