Thursday, 24 March 2011

Justice As Reciprocity (I)

In 1971, the same year as the publication of A Theory of Justice, and presumably written as Theory was being completed, Rawls published a paper entitled "Justice As Reciprocity". One of the points of the paper is to distinguish between "justice" and "fairness" in order that the point of having a conception of justice as fairness can be more easily understood. A second point is to contrast Rawls' view of justice with the utilitarian conception with which he has multiplied problems ever since the writing of "Outline of A Decision Procedure for Ethics" in 1951.

The title of the paper is meant to bring out the core element that is shared between the conceptions of "justice" and "fairness", the notion of "reciprocity". As was suggested in earlier work the notion of "justice" itself is primarily conceived of as involving the elimination of arbitrary distinctions and the establishment of an equilibrium between competing claims. However for the sense of this conception to be really made manifest it is required that two specific principles be set out. These principles are the familiar ones of equal rights to the most extensive liberty compatible with like liberty for all and the combination of the difference principle with the principle of equality of opportunity (or openness of offices to talents). The principle of equal liberty is itself then determined as requiring the conception that similar cases be treated similarly, a point that shows this principle is meant to be understood as generalizable. This understanding of the sense of equality implied in the first principle is combined with a notion of impartial administration and with the definition and initial specification of the practices to which it applies.

The second principle, which combines together two separable points about equality, concerns "benefits and burdens" that arise from occupancy of offices and Rawls here stresses in quite an emphatic manner that such inequalities as relate to offices have to work to the advantage of every person. Both principles have to be looked at from a general point of view, such as is supposed by the notion of the "representative man".

When Rawls goes on to invoke the basis of these principles by mentioning his "conjectural account" of their derivation he does so, as is again explicitly stated, to show that they are based on the "constraints of morality" in relation to the circumstances of justice. The veil of ignorance is invoked though not named as such and under its guise the need for generalizable principles becomes clear. Not only is this so but Rawls characteristically assumes a relationship between impartiality and morality when stating that acknowledgement of principles as applying as much to one's own case as that of others is "an essential aspect of having a morality". 

The constraints on the difference principle are clearly referred to since it is recognized as plausible that inequalities can meet its condition so that: "the immediate gain which equality would allow can be considered as intelligently invested in view of its future return".  This rather striking use of language is used to suggest a general incentive exists to have inequalities recognized in light of their tendency to promote the general conditions that are most favourable.

Rawls goes on to indicate that the view of justice implied in the "construction" he has given has similarities with game theory though he distinguishes it from game theory as he denies that the "construction" supposes a general theory of motivation. Nor does the "construction" suppose individual strategies though Rawls admits that a "special and general manner" of gaming is still supposed in a formal way in the "construction" he has given.

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