Does the maximin principle only apply to John Rawl's second principle, or is it the frame of mind of the person in the original position?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In A Theory of Justice, political philosopher John Rawls posits that the objective of a just society should be the equal distribution of justice – a distinctly different conception than those philosophers and theorists who prioritized equality of wealth.  While equitable distribution of wealth could be seen as essential for the establishment of a just society, such a distribution is not and cannot be in a democratic society compelled, especially as such a mandate would ignore fundamental differences in intelligence and ethics, particularly with respect to diligence in one’s labors.  Socialism, let alone communism, was not his goal.  Fairness was his principle objective, and “original position,” as he states in his tome:

“. . .the original position “is the appropriate initial status quo which insures that the fundamental agreements reached in it are fair.  This fact yields the name ‘justice as fairness.’”

Rawls then sets forth his two principles of justice as follows:

“The first statement of the two principles reads as follows.

First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive scheme of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for others.

Second: social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all.”

 Expanding upon this thesis, Rawls states, with respect to his second principle, that it applies

“. . .in the first approximation, to the distribution of income and wealth and to the design of organizations that make use of differences in authority and responsibility.  While the distribution of wealth and income need not be equal, it must be to everyone’s advantage, and at the same time, positions of authority and responsibility must be accessible to all.  One applies the second principle by holding positions open, and then, subject to this constraint, arranges social and economic inequalities so that everyone benefits.”

And, finally, he stipulates with respect to his “maximum position,” that:

“The correct distribution [of satisfactions] . . . is that which yields the maximum fulfillment.  Society must allocate its means of satisfaction whatever these are, rights and duties, opportunities and privileges, and various forms of wealth, so as to achieve this maximum if it can.  But in itself no distribution of satisfaction is better than another except that the more equal distribution is to be preferred to break ties.”

What one can conclude from these excerpts from A Theory of Justice is that the distinctions between Rawls’ concepts of maximum position, second principle, and original position are all largely synonymous, and all contribute to his conception of a society that provides for equal opportunity, but which neither guarantees equality of wealth nor assumes equality of ability.  Rawls’ rejection of those Utilitarians who argue for utopian ideals regarding homogeneity of outcome is grounded in his acknowledgement that natural advantages neither can nor should be marginalized.  When he posits that “justice is fairness,” he is essentially arguing that what Pericles envisioned in 431 B.C., when, during his well-known funeral oration, he stated:

"If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way"

In a sense, Rawls’ theory of justice is the natural evolutionary formulation that began with Pericles, was added to the U.S. Constitution with passage of the Fourteenth Amendment [“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”], and found its most recent manifestation in his contribution to political philosophy.  Political philosophy, needless to say, is subject to endless interpretation.  It is fair to suggest, however, that Rawls’ “maximum position” applies both to his second principle of justice and to ‘the frame of mind of the person in the original position.’


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