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Since the publication of John Rawls' A Theory of Justice () - followed up by Political Liberalism () and Justice as Fairness: A Restatement ().
Table of contents

The Principle of Fair Equal Opportunity : Social economic inequalities should be attached to positions and offices opened to all under conditions of fair equal opportunity. The Difference Principle : Social and economic inequalities should be arranged in a way that is the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society.

The veil of ignorance is a theoretical device that guarantees the fairness of the resulting agreement by depriving the original contracting parties of morally irrelevant information. For Rawls, it is this very choice for justice as fairness from the original position that lends its very justification as well as a conclusive refutation of utilitarianism. In a similar period, Harsanyi , proved two mathematical results which he believed to formally justify utilitarianism.

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After observing that the Rawls-vs-Harsanyi debate has reached a deadlock, Moehler concludes that there is no clear winner of the Rawls-Harsanyi dispute as each author attempts to model different moral ideals. My approach in this paper is different. Rawls presents several reasons; he talks about strains of commitment, the distinction between persons, the publicity condition, and issues related to stability and self-respect. Would we be able to honor our original agreement? This is the argument from strains of commitment. If our society officially affirms that it will follow utilitarianism as its fundamental guiding principle which is required by the publicity condition and tries to publicly justify that the sacrifices of slaves are required to maximize social welfare, would it be possible for us, as slaves, to retain our self-respect?

This is the argument from the publicity condition and self-respect. And, if utilitarianism will be unable to generate wide universal support, would a political society regulated by utilitarianism be stable? This is the argument from stability. All of these are importantly distinct considerations that may explain why the original contracting parties in the original position would favor justice as fairness over utilitarianism.

The reasons stemming from strains of commitment, stability, and self-respect are all mere implications of this possible consequence of utilitarianism. Freedom as equal liberty is the same for all… But the worth of liberty is not the same for everyone. Some have greater authority and wealth, and therefore greater means to achieve their aims. That is why we need the difference principle along with the principle of equal basic liberties.

These comparisons are made in terms of expectations of primary social goods. In fact, I define these expectations simply as the index of these goods which a representative individual can look forward to. An immediate question is whether such indexing of primary social goods is actually possible. Let us try to do this a little more precisely. In other words, according to the Rawlsian social welfare function, one distribution is better than another distribution if and only if the expectations measured in terms of the index of primary social goods one enjoys—which, in our present case, is simply the amount of wealth one enjoys—of the least advantaged person under the former distribution is greater than that of the least advantaged person under the latter distribution.

Note how utilitarianism and the difference principle use different information when deciding the specific distribution for a given distributional problem. Utilitarianism is concerned with the welfare levels different distributions of wealth generate for each individual and tries to choose the distribution that maximizes the total sum of individual welfare in society.

In contrast, the difference principle is concerned with the amount of primary social goods —i. Thus the difference principle is to apply to citizens engaged in social cooperation; if the principle fails for this case, it would seem to fail in general. The most important implication of the normality assumption for our current discussion is that we need not consider issues of disabled or handicapped people who are generally poor translators of wealth-to-welfare.

See Fig. The utility function is strictly increasing in primary social goods. There exists a reference point G in the above figure below which and above which the slope and curvature of the utility function abruptly changes. The slope below the reference point is linear and steeper than the slope above the reference point. The slope above the reference point is strictly concave and flatter than the slope below the reference point.

John Rawls

To be clear, the main purpose of introducing such a utility function at that point of the book was to show how utilitarianism, once individual utility functions are suitably characterized, can support justice as fairness in an overlapping consensus Rawls , — This explains why the parties must reject alternatives that fail to guarantee the basic equal liberties. Rawls , What Rawls wanted to argue was that once individual utility functions are suitably characterized as depicted in Fig.

For the remainder of the paper, I will try to demonstrate why this argument is flawed. We consider two representative groups living in our society.

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Some people may criticize that this does not accurately represent the type of situation that Rawls envisions, as it simply assumes that a fixed amount of social wealth is given exogenously. The reason why this may be problematic is because assuming a fixed amount of social wealth may seem to get rid of incentive issues, which Rawls deemed important in justifying his difference principle.

However, one must clearly understand the specific context in which Rawls relied on incentive issues to justify his difference principle. Rawls relied on incentive issues to argue for the superiority of the difference principle over strict egalitarianism under which social wealth is distributed in a perfectly equal manner not utilitarianism. The main point is that incentives considerations would favor the difference principle when the difference principle is compared to strict egalitarianism; however, incentives considerations will not favor the difference principle when it is compared to utilitarianism.

A utilitarian society will generally provide an even better prospect for the entrepreneurs than a society regulated by the difference principle, as the upper bound of economic benefits that the entrepreneurs is allowed to accumulate would not be constrained by any considerations to benefit the least advantaged group in their society. So, incentive considerations would give reasons to support utilitarianism rather than the difference principle.

Rawls’s Self-Defeat: A Formal Analysis

So, focusing on societies that have a fixed amount of wealth to distribute actually takes away one advantage that utilitarianism has over the difference principle; namely, incentive considerations. In this sense, our model is actually handicapping utilitarianism. What would be surprising is if utilitarianism turned out to be superior over the difference principle even when incentive issues disfavoring the difference principle is nullified.

Rawls: Principles of Justice

We assume that both utility functions conform to all of the general characteristics [i. This presupposes that, even within the normal range, there exist people who are advantaged or disadvantaged relative to other people. This completes the setup of our model.

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Before moving on, I would like to point out that focusing on a simple model of a society consisting of two representative groups is an exercise that Rawls himself invokes quite frequently throughout his works. Let us now derive the specific distributional consequences of utilitarianism and justice as fairness more specifically, the difference principle of our model. Before doing this, I would like to emphasize that the only reason why we are considering a liberal democratic society that meets the principle of equal basic liberties i.

Such an assumption is not meant to restrict the distributional consequences of utilitarianism. All the distributional results of utilitarianism that we will soon derive will remain intact even if we dropped this assumption. Here is our first result that will be used frequently throughout our analysis. Proposition 1 shows that the difference principle will always divide social wealth into half and distribute it equally to each individual. With this in mind, let us consider the distributional consequences of utilitarianism under different levels of social wealth.

Of course, Rawls remained vague on what he exactly meant by the condition of moderate scarcity. Proposition 2 is important. Yet, compare the distributional consequences of utilitarianism and the difference principle. Utilitarianism prescribes a distribution that secures the equal worth of basic rights and liberties for everybody. In other words, the distribution that the difference principle prescribes in our two group society under conditions of moderate scarcity goes against the very purpose of why the difference principle was initially proposed and designed in the first place; namely, to protect the least advantaged group in society. For a devoted Rawlisan, the result seems to be something that would be hard to swallow. By focusing solely on maximizing the size of the bundle of primary social goods i.

The primary goods approach seems to take little note of the diversity of human beings. But, in fact, people seem to have very different needs varying with health, longevity, climatic conditions, location, work conditions, temperament, and even body size affecting food and clothing requirements.

Rawls takes primary goods as the embodiment of advantage, rather than taking advantage to be a relationship between persons and goods. Sen : — So, the situation may be thought of as exemplifying conditions of moderate abundance. The way utilitarianism distributes the available resources accords very well with our basic moral intuitions. Afterwards, utilitarianism prescribes to divide and distribute the remaining social wealth—i. Now, compare this with the distributional consequences of the difference principle.

This is already a major failure on part of the difference principle. However, I would like to throw a final blow. Not quite.

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This is because, within our model, not only would the total amount of aggregate social welfare generated by utilitarianism be greater than what would be generated by the difference principle, the level of welfare enjoyed by LAG, in particular, will always be greater under utilitarianism than under the difference principle whenever the levels of social wealth is greater than or equal to moderate scarcity. The total social welfare generated by utilitarianism is strictly greater than the total social welfare generated by the difference principle; and.

The welfare level that LAG enjoys is always greater under utilitarianism than under the difference principle. We know that utilitarianism strives to maximize total social welfare. What Proposition 4 shows is that, whenever conditions are more favorable than or equal to moderate scarcity, the increase in total social welfare that is achieved under utilitarianism is not achieved by any sacrifice of the least advantaged group in society.