What does Rawls mean by the term “justice as fairness,” and does it provide an attractive guide to running a just state? Explain and defend your answer.

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According to Rawls in his work A Theory of Justice , the concept of "justice as fairness" describes a set of principles and structures in a society that promote fairness. He writes that a fair society would be one whose features would be ones that rational people would choose if...

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According to Rawls in his work A Theory of Justice, the concept of "justice as fairness" describes a set of principles and structures in a society that promote fairness. He writes that a fair society would be one whose features would be ones that rational people would choose if they had the chance to do so in an "initial position of equality." Essentially, "The choice . . . rational men would make in this hypothetical situation of equal liberty" would be fair, as long as those making the decision were behind a "veil of ignorance" as to their position (economically and socially) in society. In this situation, the rational decision would be to choose structures within a society that promoted social equality. This choice, Rawls writes, "determines the principles of justice." In a fair (i.e., just) society, each person would have access to equal opportunities, and the structures of society would be arranged in such a way as to care for the least well-off people. A fair society would also be one structured in such a way that nobody was privileged by these structures. So it could not be deliberately or consciously structured to benefit people who were of a particular race, class, or gender. It would be based on a principle of social equality. Rawls claimed that this arrangement also predisposed cooperation between members of society:

[W]henever social institutions satisfy these principles those engaged in them can say to one another that they are cooperating on terms to which they would agree if they were free and equal persons whose relations with respect to one another were fair

Other people had proposed similar theories, but what made the theory of "justice as fairness" unique was that it attempted to provide a rational foundation for an abstract principle like fairness.

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Rawls' "justice as fairness" attempts to have people look through a lens where they do not consider their own interests, only what is fair.  Rawls theory is extremely important because it attempted to bring fairness to an unfair society.  Essentially, you are supposed to forget who you are when you make decisions and think what is the most fair thing to do for society.  Rawls believed the biggest crime is to make a decision or action that could limit someone else's "rights and freedoms."

I believe Rawls' theory is very considerate, which I appreciate, but I do not believe it is an attractive guide for running a state.  It is certainly important to understand one's biases, advantages and how others do not have those same privileges, however those factors are still involved in one's decision making.  Rawls' theory is also a bit antiquated (created in 1971) and since many social scientists have found criticisms with his theory.  I believe the most important criticism is that "The theory was developed more to handle problems within society and there are difficulties in applying the principles to individual decision-making involving specific others." (Queensborough Community College)

Ultimately, this is an important theory for political leaders and judges who can more easily consider the whole rather than individuals who have very different and specific problems.

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