Rawls proposes two fundamental talents that individuals would recognize in themselves. First, people understand that they have the ability to establish, pursue, and change a vision of the good, or a life plan. However, the individual does not yet know what kind of notion of the good this is. Second, people grasp that they can also act on this ability in order to achieve certain ends.
These two ideas form the basis of Rawls's account of agency. He claims that "the concept of agency as such presupposes both a capacity for self-determination and a will to choose" (1971: 7). A person who could not choose anything for herself would be capable but not responsible. On the other hand, a person who did not possess the capacity for self-determination but who had no choice anyway would be able to choose but not responsible because she did not want to make any choices at all.
So agency requires both a capacity for self-determination and a will to choose. Rawls says very little about the nature of these powers except to note that they involve reason and desire, respectively. However, he does provide some examples to illustrate how these two capacities work together in practice. For example, an agent who wants to do something but lacks the knowledge required to accomplish it cannot be said to have chosen to do so.
Rawls is widely regarded as one of the twentieth century's most prominent political thinkers. According to Rawls' idea of "justice as fairness," equal basic rights, equality of opportunity, and advancing the interests of society's most disadvantaged members are all recommended. In addition, Rawls also proposed two principles called the "two principles of justice." The first principle says that institutions should be set up so that all individuals have an equal chance to achieve their full potentialities as free and responsible agents. The second principle states that people should be treated equally, regardless of their social or economic status.
Rawls' work has had a major influence on both liberal and communitarian theories of justice. His emphasis on basic liberties, his defense of the priority of social over individual goods, and his discussion of social classes all make him a significant contributor to contemporary political thought.
Furthermore, many commentators regard Rawls as being responsible for bringing post-traditional ideas back into fashion within academic circles. Prior to Rawls, most philosophers believed that only traditional forms of justice were possible. But by demonstrating how a modern theory of justice could be formulated, Rawls showed that non-traditional ideas had not been completely ruled out as possibilities.
Finally, many observers see Rawls as having revived interest in political philosophy which had fallen into decline following the publication of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty in 1859.
Rawls argues in A Theory of Justice for a coherent reconciliation of liberty and equality that is intended to apply to the fundamental structure of a well-ordered society. He starts with the idea that every person has inherent dignity and worth, which no social arrangement can take away. People therefore have equal basic rights, which include the right to freedom and security, as well as rights to economic opportunity, fair decision-making, and participation in political life.
These concepts form the basis of Rawls's two principles of justice: (1) maximum liberty and (2) equal treatment. Under the first principle, individuals should be free from arbitrary interference with their liberty, but also have limits placed on this freedom in order to protect others from harm. Under the second principle, all citizens deserve equal access to the public good, such as security and prosperity. These two principles must be satisfied simultaneously if social order is to be just.
Rawls believes that an agreement between these two principles is possible because any system of rules and regulations will necessarily limit our freedom in some way, even if only implicitly. For example, people cannot be expected to break laws they do not know exist. However, even though most restrictions on liberty are necessary to preserve order, it is still unfair when certain people or groups are subject to more restrictive measures than others.
John Rawls (born 1921; died 2002) was a liberal-minded American political philosopher. His justice as fairness idea envisions a community of free persons with equal basic rights functioning within an equitable economic framework. The aim of this scheme is to ensure that no one is born into poverty and no one can be made poor by other people's decisions.
Rawls's most famous work, A Theory of Justice, was published in 1971. It introduced the concept of "justice as fairness" and argued that a fair system of justice should also be a just system.
Rawls started out as a student of Bertrand Russell at Harvard University but left after one year to work for the United States government during World War II. After the war he returned to Harvard where he received his PhD in economics. He then moved to the University of Chicago, where he became a professor of sociology and philosophy.
In 1971 Rawls published A Theory of Justice, which has since become a classic of social justice literature. The book starts out with a very general discussion about justice and ends up proposing a particular system: "fairness as equality before the law".
Rawls's main idea is that everyone should be treated equally, but not necessarily in all aspects of their life.
In contrast to utilitarianism, Rawls views political philosophy as more than just applied moral philosophy. The utilitarian adheres to a single universal moral principle ("maximize utility"), which she applies to individual behaviors, political constitutions, international relations, and any other issue as necessary. By contrast, for Rawls, the aim of political philosophy is to provide a framework within which citizens can make reasonable choices about social cooperation: it is a theory of justice.
Rawls' approach to ethics is also different from that of most other philosophers. He does not try to give an exhaustive list of all possible actions nor do he attempt to show that one action is better than another. His goal is merely to describe a fair system of cooperation that would be acceptable to rational agents who have considered the issues involved in order to choose it.
Utilitarianism arose at a time when society was primitive and people had little choice but to work together in groups. If all they wanted to do was maximize their own personal benefit, then there was no reason to believe that they would choose a social arrangement that served others above themselves. Rawls argues that we now live in a world where everyone has options regarding how they will cooperate with others so it is reasonable to expect them to want a system of cooperation that serves their interests as well as those of others.
Rawls also disagrees with certain aspects of utilitarianism.