What are primary goods?

In A Theory of Justice, primary goods are defined as rights, properties, and qualities that are desired by and useful to every human being, particularly within the context of civil society.

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John Rawls alters the definition of primary goods slightly in the second edition of A Theory of Justice , placing more emphasis on the exercise of rights and freedoms within a civil society. Despite this change of emphasis, however, the essential definition of primary goods remains the same. They are...

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John Rawls alters the definition of primary goods slightly in the second edition of A Theory of Justice, placing more emphasis on the exercise of rights and freedoms within a civil society. Despite this change of emphasis, however, the essential definition of primary goods remains the same. They are the attributes and rights that everyone desires and that everyone needs in order to fulfil their role as a citizen. Some primary goods are natural qualities, such as intelligence and health. However, Rawls is most interested in the social primary goods which exist within civil societies.

These social primary goods include the basic rights of a citizen in a democracy, such as the right to vote and to exercise freedom of movement and association. They also include wealth and property ownership and the respect of other members of society. Everyone wants these primary goods and tries to claim as large a share of them as possible. People and institutions also evaluate the success of individuals based on the number of primary goods they have been able to claim.

Rawls therefore uses primary goods as the basis for his discussion of fairness, claiming that a just society is one in which primary goods are distributed in an equitable manner.

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