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Contemporary Views of Justice and the Social Contract


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Title: Contemporary Views of Justice and the Social Contract

Contemporary Views of Justice and the Social
  • What is Fairness or Social Justice in Todays

Three Major Conceptions of Justice In
Contemporary Democracy
  • Libertarian
  • Egalitarian
  • Contractarian

Libertarian View of Justice in the Social Contract
  • Liberty is the ultimate moral ideal.
  • Individuals have rights to life, liberty, and
    property that society must recognize.
  • The purpose of government is to protect these
    rights of individuals from being violated by
    others by force or fraud.
  • Except for this, individuals can pursue their own
    actions and welfare.

Libertarian . . .
  • Negative rights are emphasized the individual
    has the right to noninterference, the right to be
    left alone to pursue the good life as personally
  • Positive rights are de-emphasized. The common
    good is not a concern, as working for the common
    good would require society to take ones
    resources (in the form of taxes) to do things
    other than what the individual may want or may
    benefit him.

Libertarian . . .
  • The assumption is that leaving everyone alone to
    pursue personal best interests, protected from
    being harmed by others, will result in the
    greatest common good.
  • Programs of social good/welfare are prohibited
    as unjustified violations of individual rights,
    requiring that resources be taken from some
    against there will and be given to others.
  • An open and free (unregulated) marketplace is the
    economic system generally supported by
    libertarian conceptions of justice.
  • The less government the better.

Egalitarian View of Justice In The Social Contract
  • Equality is the ultimate moral ideal.
  • While differences among egalitarians, all
    maintain the importance of social equality in
    their conceptions of justice.
  • Hold that society (government) is responsible for
    furthering and promoting equality.
  • Believe it is permissible and necessary to
    restrict an individuals liberty in order to
    promote social equality.

Egalitarian . . .
  • Egalitarians stress positive rights rather than
    negative ones. Particularly the right to lifes
    basic and important things food, housing,
    education, health care, and a reasonable
    standard of living.
  • Egalitarian criticism of libertarianism is that
    the right to be left alone (negative right) does
    not mean anything if one lacks the resources to
    pursue life while being left alone.
  • Economic views of egalitarians would call for a
    significantly regulated market to ensure a
    measure of equality with even major businesses
    owned and operated by government.

Distinguishing Between Equality and Equity
  • The Greek word from which we derive the word
    justice is dike (dicka).
  • In Greek it meant equal.
  • But, equal means the same as.
  • Aristotle (and Socrates) believed that there were
    many inequalities that were also just. His view
    of equity as justice is at its root an argument
    for inequality, though not injustice.
  • So, as we have seen, Aristotle argued for a view
    of justice which advocated equity
    (proportionality based on relevant factors), not

  • Libertarianism emphasizes justice as equity, with
    justice being distributed based on merit ones
    effort, skill or contribution.
  • Egalitarianism emphasizes justice as equality,
    with justice being distributed based on need.
  • It is important to note that there are no purely
    libertarian or purely egalitarian governments.
    (Socialism is a form of government that is based
    on egalitarianism.but no pure socialist

Declaration of Independence
  • all men are created EQUAL and are endowed by
    their creator with certain inalienable rights,
    among which are life, LIBERTY and the pursuit of

    Thomas Jefferson Jefferson was a thoughtful
    student of the Enlightenment in Europe and took
    his emphasis on equality from the writings of
    Rousseau and his emphasis on liberty from Locke
    along with Hobbes, the three most influential
    political philosophers writing on the social

Contractarian View of Justice in the Social
  • How is it possible that there may exist over
    time a stable and just society of FREE and EQUAL
    citizens profoundly divided by reasonable
    religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines?
  • John
  • A Theory of Justice

Tension . . .
  • Justice creates the circumstance under which
    cooperation is both possible and necessary.
  • It is not possible to have a social contract that
    promotes cooperation unless there is a system of
  • Justice presupposes conflicts of interest. If
    never any conflicts among people we would need no
    theory of justice, or a social contract..
  • The values of liberty and equality often conflict
    and thus compete with one another.
  • What happens when your liberty precludes my
    equality, or vice versa?

John Rawls Contractarian Theory of Justice
  • Blends libertarian and egalitarian views,
    attempting to balance the ideals of liberty and
  • It does so by emphasizing, as a moral
    requirement, that those who have more than
    enough, help those in need.
  • Accepts the egalitarian criticism of negative
    rights, thus wants to advocate for working for
    the common good.
  • But also accepts the the libertarian view that
    ones liberty should not be unduly violated.

Rawls . . .
  • Rawls approach to justice is an attempt to
    answer his question of how we can have a society
    of individuals who are both free and equal, as
    our Declaration of Independence suggests.
  • In actuality his is an attempt in a theory of
    justice to preserve as much liberty as possible
    while creating as much equality as possible.
  • But, in doing so acknowledging that we are never
    completely equal, or totally at liberty.

How Does One Establish A Just SocietyOne That
Provides For As Much Equality and Liberty As
  • Rawls asks that we imagine a group of free,
    rational, and impartial people trying to decide
    what moral (social) rules they would be willing
    to live by before knowing what position they will
    occupy in the society that would be created by
    these rules.
  • This is Rawls famous veil of ignorance. It is
    a metaphor to suggest viewing a society but not
    seeing clearly, that is, seeing what our place
    is in that society.

Veil of Ignorance
  • Behind such a veil of ignorance, individual
    circumstances are unknown, and so individuals
    designing the social contract would make
    decisions about its terms in accordance with only
    the most general desires for the basic human
  • They would consider everyones needs alike since
    their individual personal needs would be unknown
    to them at this time.

Veil of Ignorance . . .
  • In Rawls view, rational beings will be somewhat
    adverse to risk, and each one would want to make
    certain that, if in the natural lottery, that is,
    birth into the world, he or she winds up on the
    bottom of the heap, in terms of merit or worth
    (skill, effort, or contribution), the bottom is
    as attractive as possible.
  • So, JUST social rules are the ones that rational
    people would adopt behind the veil of ignorance.

Rawls Maintains The Rules Would Accord With Three
  • 1. Principle of equal liberty Each person is
    to have an equal right to the most extensive
    system of liberties comparable with a similar
    system of liberty for all.
  • 2. Principle of fair opportunity Persons with
    similar abilities and skills are to have equal
    access to office and positions of the society.
  • 3. Principle of difference Social and economic
    institutions are to arranged so as to to benefit
    maximally the worst off.

Principles Applied
  • Thus in this hypothetical just society everyone
    would have
  • equal liberty or freedom., and
  • equal opportunity.
  • But, because skills, effort and contributions
    will vary, individuals will fare differently
  • Therefore, the society would be structured so as
    to maximally benefit those worst off
    socio-economically, while preserving as much
    liberty and opportunity as possible.
  • Rawls theoretical approach is supported by Peter
    Singers notion of equality, in which he views
    equality as the equal consideration of
    interests. This is what Rawls approach

Unfortunate, Not Unfair
  • Rawls thus acknowledges that in this
    hypothetical society, as well as in a real
    society, inequalities are going to emerge in
    wealth and social standing. They are inevitable.
    A true egalitarian society (everyone truly equal
    in all things) is not possible. But, this will
    still be a just society as long as the people at
    the top of the heap are there based on merit
    (skill, effort or contribution). It may be
    unfortunate that some are less well off, but it
    is not unfair.

Unfortunate, Not Unfair
  • Human sentiment supports this view. We have
    little difficulty accepting the status of those
    we believe are where they are due to meritorious
    effort but we do have difficulty with those who
    have done so by not playing by the rulesfairly.
  • While socio-economic inequalities are not
    inconsistent with a equitable view of justice,
    severe inequalities are often the cause of
    political discord, and potential undermining of
    societal structure and stability.

  • In other words, severe inequalities distort the
    evaluation of contributions by both the
    advantaged and the disadvantaged, leading to
    outcomes that are unfair as judged by natural
    standards of equity.
  • Aristotle in discussing what form of political
    life is best recognized this and as a practical
    matter argued that a middling possession of
    wealth is best. The overly wealthy tend toward
    arrogance, the overly indigent toward malice the
    former will be consumed by contempt and the
    latter by envy.

  • Rawls theory recognizes the destabilizing
    effect of too much inequality by maximally
    benefiting the least well off, thus avoiding
    extremes of socio-economic status.

Libertarian? Egalitarian? Contractarian?
  • Americas philosophical basis of justice is in
    social contract theory.
  • Which theory best represents America as you see
    it today?

Evaluation of Justice
  • How is America doing as a just society?
  • What is our social health?
  • Are the inequalities in socio-economic well-being
    so extreme as to threaten the social contract?

The Index of Social Health, United States, 1970
2006 17 Drop
  • Social indicators include
  • average earnings
  • poverty
  • inequality
  • child abuse
  • health care
  • drug abuse

Index of Social Health and Gross Domestic
Product, 1959-1996
Some Interesting Statistics ...
  • The median income of the upper 20 of Americans
    is 12 times the median income of the lower 20.
    For all other industrialized nations it is
    approximately 6 times.
  • Since 1968 the average earning differential
    between the top 20 and the lower 20 has
    doubled .
  • The share of total net worth of the top 0.5 of
    the population rose from 26 to 31 from 1983 to
  • The top 1 of the population owns more than 40
    of the nations wealth double what it was in the
  • Bill Gates has more personal wealth than 45 of
    the population combined.

From the Washington Post
  • Ratio of executive pay to worker pay has
    exploded from 42 to 1 in 1980, to 419 to 1 in
  • Had worker pay risen as fast an executive pay,
    the average worker would earn more than 110,000
    a year, compared with the 29,000 they do earn,
    and the minimum wage would be 22.08/hour
    rather than 6.55.
  • Average compensation for a chief executive in
    2006 was 15 million .
  • In 1998 the pay of executives rose 36 compared
    with 2.7 for average blue collar worker.
  • Two-thirds of Americans earn less than

From New York Times
  • Gap Between Rich and Poor Found Substantially
  • Richest 1 of Americans (2.7 million), will have
    as many after tax dollars to spend
    (515,600/family) as bottom 100 million
  • This ratio has more than doubled since 1977.
  • Average income of poorest 20 of Americans is
    8,800, down from 10,000 in 1977.

  • The income gap in America is eroding the
    social contract. If the promise of a higher
    standard of living is limited to a few at the
    top, the rest of the citizenry, as history shows,
    is likely to grow disaffected, or worse.
  • Lester Thurow
  • MIT economist
  • in How Much Inequality Can A Democracy