Ariadne's Thread on Justice

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Critique of Rawls

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Ayesha Speaking

Let me suggest some organization here before we go off all over the map. Dee wants property rights at the top of the queue. Ann wants human welfare. I'm half way to being a communitarian, and Vera doesn't trust theories at all.

We all have different views on Rawls and justice. Let me suggest that we start with some discussion of two key elements of Rawls' theory: the original position and his two principles of justice. I have looked over a lot of articles on Rawls, and much of the criticism focuses on those areas.


  • The Original Position
  • The two principles of justice, especially the second principle


I don't think we should confine ourselves to just these areas, but they are a good place to begin. Let me start with a brief description of the Original Position. Here's my box top summary.

The Original Position is a situation in which a group of people contemplate what basic institutions should govern their society. It is their job to choose these basic institutions. They are assumed to be functionally rational and self-interested, but they are not envious of the success of others. Furthermore, they must choose from behind a veil of ignorance. They do not know what position they will occupy in the society governed by the institutions and rules they choose. They know only some general facts about human nature and society.

In this Original Position they are to choose institutions and rules for living. According to Rawls, the rules they choose are to be accepted as just because they are chosen under the conditions he sets out. In other words, he has reduced the problem of choosing principles of justice to one of pure procedure. It is the procedure that guarantees that the principles chosen are just. There is no independent criterion for deciding whether the principles are 'correct.'

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