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  1. Rawlsian Fair Equality of Opportunity
  2. See a Problem?
  3. Economics and Economic Justice (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  4. Oxford Philosophical Monographs: Against Equality of Opportunity by Matt Cavanagh (2002, Hardcover)

He argues that, deprived of specific knowledge of their own situation, the parties in the original position would be forced to reason impartially, and they would agree to principles of justice that required an equal scheme of basic rights and liberties, fair equality of opportunity, and an egalitarian although not strictly equal distribution of wealth and positions of authority.

Rawls intended his principles of justice to be used in evaluating the basic institutional structure of a society.

Rawlsian Fair Equality of Opportunity

Some theorists influenced by his views argued that the same or similar principles should also be used to evaluate the justice of the global order. Instead he argues for a far less egalitarian standard of permissible economic inequality among societies and for toleration of certain non-liberal societies that rejected the liberal rights he defended domestically although toleration need not be extended to those who rejected basic human rights. In all three of these areas—defending a liberal contractarian conception of justice as an alternative to utilitarianism; developing the ideas of democratic justification contained in public reason and the idea of a political conception of justice; and introducing a principled distinction between the standards of domestic justice and those of international relations or global justice—Rawls was both controversial and agenda-setting for Anglo-American philosophy.

In political philosophy today, his theories represent a baseline against which other theories present themselves. Laden is a review of the collection Richardson and Weithman cited under General Collections , but can serve as an outstanding synthesis of the broad Rawlsian project. Pogge includes as its first chapter the most extensive biography in print, and is also an excellent critical introduction.

Freeman, Samuel. New York: Routledge, Laden, Anthony. DOI: Review of Richardson and Weithman cited under General Collections but serves as an outstanding synthesis of the broad Rawlsian project. Moon, J. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter. Please, subscribe or login to access full text content. To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs , and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us. All Rights Reserved.

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OSO version 0. University Press Scholarship Online. Sign in. Not registered? The more demanding fair equality of opportunity requires that institutions are arranged so that any individuals with the same native talent and the same ambition have the same chances for competitive success—success in competitions for positions that confer above-average shares of primary social goods.

A society in which fair equality of opportunity is satisfied is, in a sense, a perfect meritocracy. Rawls offers two arguments. One appeals to the implications of applying these principles in a modern setting. To the extent that the principles imply policies and outcomes for individuals that match our reflective judgments about these matters, the principles will appear reasonable. A second form of argument, a novelty introduced by Rawls, is the original position construction.

The idea is to refine the social contract tradition. Justice is conceived to be what persons would agree to under conditions for choosing principles to regulate the basic structure of society that are ideally fair. The original position argument exemplifies a fair proceduralist standard of justification: What is right is what people following an ideal procedure would accept as right. The original position argument carries the social contract idea to a higher level of abstraction.

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The object of the agreement is to be basic principles for regulating social life not actual social arrangements. The agreement is conceived to be hypothetical not actual. Actual contracts reached by people in ordinary life reflect their bargaining strength and other contingencies. Rawls urges a thick veil, with the result that parties in the original position know p.

The parties are assumed to prefer more rather than fewer primary social goods and choose principles according to their expectation of the primary social goods they would get in a society run according to the principles chosen in the original position. Rawls conjectures that, in the original position so specified, the parties as defined would choose a maximin rule of choice choose the policy that will make the worst possible outcome as good as possible and on this basis would favor his principles. The original position argument as Rawls presents it is significantly shaped by his conviction that to render his view plausible the formidable opponent that must be defeated is utilitarianism.

According to Rawls, utilitarianism, although wrong, has received impressive formulation as a genuine normative theory of right conduct and institutions. A theory is a set of principles that specifies the facts relevant to social decision and that, once these relevant facts pertaining to any decision problem are known, determines what ought to be chosen in that decision problem without any further need for intuitive judgment. You cannot beat a theory except with a better theory, Rawls thinks. Rawls provides a partial theory, a theory of just institutions, that can stand as a rival to a utilitarian account.

Rawls identifies utilitarianism with the view that one ought always to choose that action or policy that maximizes the aggregate or average level of informed desire satisfaction. As Rawls sets up the original position argument, three arguments are prominent. Another argument is that those in the individual position are choosing for a well-ordered society in which everyone accepts and complies with the principles chosen, so they cannot in the original position choose principles that they expect they might not be disposed to accept and follow in the society ruled by the principles chosen.


Economics and Economic Justice (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

A related argument or stipulation is that the parties are supposed to be choosing principles for a public conception of justice, so a choice of principles that could be successfully implemented only by being kept esoteric is ruled out. Rawls adds to the original position argument a discussion of stability. He thinks his theory is only acceptable if it can be shown that in a society regulated by his principles of justice, people will embrace the principles and institutions satisfying their requirements and will be steadily motivated to comply with the principles and the institutions that realize them.

In later writings, culminating in Political Liberalism , he maintains that he initially appealed to a comprehensive Kantian account of human autonomy and fundamental human aims to establish that people living under Rawlsian institutions will have good reason and sufficient motivation to comply with them.

Explaining Equality of OPPORTUNITY vs OUTCOME - Unbiased Truth

But he comes to believe this appeal was misguided. In any liberal society that sustains a clearly desirable freedom of speech, people will fan out into different and conflicting comprehensive views of morality and the good life, so any appeal to a narrow Kantian ideal of autonomy and the nature of persons is bound to be sectarian Rawls But the upshot is not a defeat for the theory of justice. New suggestions, not yet fully elaborated for the most part, point in a variety of promising, albeit opposed, directions.

Rawls holds that just institutions distribute primary social goods fairly. Roughly, a fair distribution is identified with the distribution in which the worst off are as well off as possible according to the primary social goods measure. Amartya Sen objects that individuals born with different physical and psychological propensities will generally be unequally efficient transformers of resources such as primary social goods into whatever goals they might seek Sen Consider two individuals with the same allotments of primary social goods.

One is fit, hardy, and quick-witted; the other is lame, illness-prone, lacking in physical coordination, and slow-witted. In any terms that we care about, the condition of the two persons is unequal, but a primary social goods metric does not register the disparity.

Sen proposes that we should look beyond the distribution of opportunities and income and other primary goods and see to what extent individuals are able to be and do with their primary goods allotments given their circumstances. A Rawlsian response is that the theory of justice assumes that all individuals are able to be fully contributing members of society throughout their adult life. Problems of disability and chronic debilitating illness are assumed away. Moreover, for those within the normal range of native talents and propensities, it is reasonable to hold individuals responsible for taking account of the primary goods shares they can expect and fashioning a reasonable plan of life on this basis.

Differences in native talents and trait potentials exist among all persons, including those within whatever range is deemed to be normal.

Oxford Philosophical Monographs: Against Equality of Opportunity by Matt Cavanagh (2002, Hardcover)

These differences strike many of us as relevant to what justice demands, what we owe to one another. Moreover, one can grant that a person endowed with poor traits would be well advised not to form unrealistic ambitions and to tailor his plan of life to what he can achieve.

Expecting people to make such adjustments in their plan of life leaves entirely open whether compensation is owed to individuals to mitigate the freedom-reducing effect of poor natural endowment. There are enormous numbers of capabilities to function, and they vary from the trivial to the momentously important. We need some way of ranking the significance of different freedoms if the capability approach is to yield a standard of interpersonal comparison Arneson ; Nussbaum This is a crucial part of the enterprise of constructing a theory that is a genuine alternative to utilitarianism.

For the utilitarian, as Rawls correctly notes, the idea of what is good for a person is independent of moral notions; Robinson Crusoe alone on his island still has need of a notion of prudence, of what he needs to do to make his life go better rather than worse over the long haul. If we could get clear about what is really intrinsically good, the rest would be easy—what is morally right is maximizing, efficiently promoting the good. In contrast, Rawls aims to construct an account of rights that people have, specified by principles of justice, that is substantially independent of any particular notions of what is good, which are always bound to be disputable.

Reasonable people will persist in disagreeing about such matters. To reach objective consensus on issues of social justice, we must bracket these disagreements about God and more generally about the good, and in fact the willingness to set aside controversial conceptions of good in order to attain shared agreement on rules of social cooperation is for Rawls a prime mark of reasonableness. But if the requirements of justice are conceived as disconnected in this way from human good, we have to countenance the possibility that in a perfectly just society people lead avoidably squalid lives.

Perhaps they are even condemned to such lives; Rawlsian justice is no guarantee that your life goes well or has a good chance of going well. Moreover, the squalor might be pointless, in the sense that it is not that the misery of some is needed to avoid worse misery for others. Furthermore, the numbers do not count: If my small right is inviolable, then it must be respected, no matter the cost in the quality of human lives and in the number of persons who suffer such losses. Many substantive claims about human good, such as that the list of valuable elements in a human life includes loyal friendship, reciprocal love, healthy family ties, systematic knowledge, pleasure, meaningful work, and significant cultural and scientific achievement, seem to me to be pretty uncontroversial, part of commonsense lore.

But what is widely accepted is still sometimes disputed.

Andrew Mason

Thinking straight about how to live is difficult, and we make mistakes. Prejudice, ignorance, superstition, and unthinking acceptance of convention play roles in rendering ethical knowledge controversial. Hence it does not offend against human dignity and respect for persons to endorse the implementation by a society of controversial but by our best lights correct conceptions of human good.

The liberal legitimacy norm that Rawls embraces should be put in question if it is read as denying this. The norm is then unproblematic, but it allows imposition of views that are controversial in the ordinary sense of being contested among normal reasonable people who may be making cognitive errors.

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