John Rawls and His Theories

Essay by Heath C. HoculockUniversity, Ph.D.A+, November 1996

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The social contract theory of John Rawls challenges utilitarianism by pointing out the impracticality of the theory. Mainly, in a society of utilitarians, a citizens rights could be completely ignored if injustice to this one citizen would benefit the rest of society. Rawls believes that a social contract theory, similar those proposed by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, would be a more logical solution to the question of fairness in any government. Social contract theory in general and including the views of Rawls, is such that in a situation where a society is established of people who are self interested, rational, and equal, the rules of justice are established by what is mutually acceptable and agreed upon by all the people therein. This scenario of negotiating the laws of that society that will be commonly agreed upon and beneficial to all is what Rawls terms 'The Original Position and Justification'.

Rawls states that for this system to work, all citizens must see themselves as being behind a 'veil of ignorance'. By this he means that all deciding parties in establishing the guidelines of justice (all citizens) must see themselves as equal to everyone paying no mind to there economic situation or anything else that they could keep in mind to negotiate a better situation to those qualities. For example, if everyone in this society has an equal amount of influence toward the establishing of specific laws, a rich man may propose that taxes should be equal for all rather than proportionate to ones assets. It is for this and similar situations that Rawls feels that everyone must become oblivious to themselves. Rawls believes that the foundational guideline agreed upon by the those in the original position will be composed of two parts. The first of these rules of justice being...