Would it be a fair argument to critique Rawl's Maximin Principle by adding an element that the person in the worst position in each scenario but be deemed to attempting some effort to advance their...

Would it be a fair argument to critique Rawl's Maximin Principle by adding an element that the person in the worst position in each scenario but be deemed to attempting some effort to advance their position society to the best of their abilities? It just seems unjust to pick the best worst situation if the person in the worst situation will receive benefits regardless of putting in effort.  If this is wrong, what are fair criticisms of Rawl's Maximin Principle?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to Rawls (1973), society and social systems should exist in order to aid and support those "at the bottom of the totem pole" so that they too can surface and succeed. In his own words,

"The basic structure is just throughout when the advantages of the more fortunate promote the well-being of the least fortunate, that is, when a decrease in their advantages would make the least fortunate even worse off than they are. The basic structure is perfectly just when the prospects of the least fortunate are as great as they can be." (Rawls 328).

Now the scenario that you propose in your question is excellent for debate: what if the individual who is at that social bottom, regardless of the help, opportunities, and support systems offered to him, PREFERS to REMAIN at the bottom and not put any effort, considering that all the needs he may have are met. If this is the case, we have to pull in Ethics, regardless of whether we agree or not. After all, Democracy was founded within the same paradigms of Rawl's Principle: and both are founded on sand, rather than rock.

Let's trace the meaning of "democracy". Cleisthenes, the man who introduced the term, was from the Alcmaeonids family in 508 BC, after 2 years of civil war. This powerful family (Cleisthenes was an aristocrat)used the help of none other than the now-modernly famous Spartans to remain in power. Years passed and the word changed. To the ancient Greeks, the word demokratia stood for "power to the people" or "power of the people". Nobody, however, really pointed out which "people" were to hold such power, making the term somewhat ambiguous. In fact, there is a suggestion that it was the elite who invented the term to specify that, should their votes be undermined, as "people" they have the right to reject the votes of others! In not so many words, democracy is completely connected to Rawl's Maximin Principle, in that both are meant to empower the people..yet both terminologies are open to interpretation. 

Therefore, the next step is to bring another term invented by the Greeks which permeates our justice and social system: Ethics. Ethics is a philosophical branch that weighs right from wrong in terms of what is appropriate or morally good behavior versus what is not. Ethics would kill the argument against the Maximin Principle by conceding the fact that the responsibility of a democratic and ethical model of government is to provide its people with what they need to strive and become better citizens. The argument of whether the people deserve it remains within each individual's personal constructs. Some may say that those who refuse to earn their keep may as well not receive it...but is that ethical? Would that make a government better, or worse? Regardless, it is definitely the responsibility of the government to EDUCATE its citizens. What would the best course of action be for that unwilling individual? Certainly, it would be to aim to become a better citizen. Hence, let's empower them through education, exposure, and social experiences that motivate them to become better citizens. That CAN happen. It HAS happened, and it is more viable to become a reality.

Although we have tons of people on welfare and abusing the system (and we KNOW that they are out there), the natural tendency of human behavior is to move to a proximal zone, that is, to become, to obtain, or to experience something "better". People with no education or social exposure would try to do this the feral, easy way: stealing, doping, and committing crimes. Those with a little more exposure to social rules, even with a tiny amount of additional education, and with even an iota of decency would find a positive model to follow, and they will try to imitate it. These are not models of behavior; these are exact human tendencies of behavior.

Therefore, we could conclude a fair critique to Maximin as follows: the model embodies ethical treatment and the overall meaning of what a democratic government should do for its people. It does it with transparency, as it does not intend to favor some against others. Maximin intend to do the best, as it argues that all individuals deserve the same opportunity for success. All this is true. However, the individual is responsible for his or her own actions, as well as free to pursue them. The next best step is to educate such individuals in what would be the best course of action for them: crime does not pay, and leads to more chaos. Brushing up with positive role models, and moving onto a proximal social zone is perhaps the most humane and democratic opportunity to offer. Hence, let's continue our efforts to demonstrate how a sensible life looks like so that the offerings of a fair government are put to their best use, rather than being abused.

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A Theory of Justice

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