John Rawls Views on the Theory of Justice


John Rawls is a top political scientist and academician of United States. He was born in 1921 and passed away in 2002. His most famous work is A Theory of Justice first published in 1970 and its revised edition was published in 1990. In the revised edition, Rawls claims, some important sections and views have been revised. Some political scientists claim that it is the most important work in the English speaking world after the Second World War. Rawls championed the cause of liberalism and challenged the conventional thought of equality and attainment of justice.

In 1993 his another important work— Political Liberalism was published. Mainly these two works constituted his thought system which is modern liberalism. Even the social democrats and opponents of liberalism could not keep themselves away from the tremendous influence Rawls created in the academic circle.

It is interesting to note that during the heyday of Soviet communism and Cold War Rawls offered an alternative scheme of political liberalism which was based on minimal state concept. He did not regard inequality as basis of society and enemy of social progress. Equality cannot be accepted as an important highway leading to the big capital of justice.

Equality, inequality and other related ideas are to be judged in the background of social justice and social progress. He propounded his theory keeping the idea in mind that American capitalist system cannot be thoroughly revised or rejected. It has revised itself frequently.

Definition of Justice:

Rawls says that the conception of justice is an inherent nature of our social as well as practical life. Barker has expressed a similar idea. However, in the opinion of Raws “Justice in the first virtue of social intuitions as truth is of system of thought”. Justice is related to the social institutions which guide and mould the actions and ideas of social beings.

We cannot imagine of a well ordered society whose core concept is not justice. Justice binds all men and institutions of society. The joining capacity and feature of justice has been forcefully advocated by Barker and Rawls shares the views of Barker.

John Rawls has viewed justice in the background of society and for this reason he says that the main concern of the subject matter of justice is social structure which is the core of the society. That is justice deals with the basic social structure. The social institutions are very important in the sense that they take the responsibility of distributing the fundamental rights and duties efficiently.

It is also the important task of the social institutions to allocate judiciously the privileges and advantages for the people of society. Constitution, social, political and economic arrangements are included into these social institutions. Thus justice may conveniently be regarded as a social principle which determines the ways and procedure of distributing the rights and duties for the members of society. He further calls justice a social scheme on the basis of which rights, duties, opportunities and condition are allotted. Thus justice is both a principle and a scheme.

In the opinion of Barker justice is a social reality and is originates from social thought. But social thought does not arise or develop in a single day or at a particular point of time. Different views and cross currents of opinion help the formation of social thought and it relates to the conception of justice.

So we can say after Rawls that “various conceptions of justice are the outgrowth of different notions of society against the background of opposing views of the natural necessities and opportunities of human life”. In any liberal society opposing views must exist side by side and out of them a common opinion will one day emerge which will give rise to justice.

So justice may duly be regarded as a “proper balance between competing claims (emphasis added)”. This point of Rawls reminds us of Rousseau’s general will which is the outcome of deliberations held at open general meeting and participated by all citizens.

Rawls’ theory of justice consists of “certain distributive principles for the basic structure of society”. In the light of this analysis John Rawls defines justice in the following words. “The concept of justice I take to be defined by the role of its principles in assuming rights and duties in defining the appropriate division of social advantages. A conception of justice is an interpretation of this role”. Justice is, thus, an interpretation of principles that are suggested for the distribution of rights and duties and at the same time division of social advantages among all the members of body politic.

Justice as Fairness:

The main theme of Rawls’ theory of justice is it is interpreted as fairness. The dictionary meaning of fairness is appropriateness or just: In Rawls’ conception that arrangement can be called just or appropriate which does not create any scope of partiality or inappropriate. The principles for the distribution of rights, duties and advantages will be applied in such manner as will give no controversy.

Rawls explains the term fairness in the following way:

“I shall try to use this principle to account for all requirements that are obligations as distinct from natural duties. This principle holds that a person is required to do his part as defined by the rules of an institution when two conditions are met, first the institution is just (or fair) that is it satisfies the two principles of justice and second, one has voluntarily accepted the benefits of the arrangement”. 

From the above definition of fairness we can form certain features some of which are the following:

(1) According to John Rawls fairness denotes obligations. Obligation means an act which a person morally or legally is bound to do. Obligations are different from natural duties.

(2) When a person is legally or morally bound to do an act or perform a duty his liberty will be restricted.

(3) Fairness also implies that the members of the society are engaged in advantageous cooperative venture. Here two things are important. Individuals cooperate with each other. This co­operation places all the individuals participating in the act creates an atmosphere of mutual advantages for them all. This means that cooperation will create no disadvantage to anybody.

(4) Rawls further says that the institutions must be fair or just. They must keep themselves above parochial interests. In many societies there are such institutions which have been created to serve group’s interests and such institutions cannot serve the interests of justice.

(5) General public will accept the arrangements of the institutions ungrudgingly. They will have no reservations or objections.

(6) While discussing the nature of obligation one point is required to be mentioned here. Obligations give rise to the performance of duties which are not moral duties. The institutional or constitutional obligations impose duties upon individuals.

The constitutional or institutional obligations induce a man to perform some duties which ensure the realisation of justice. The performance of institutional duties enables an individual to manage a democratic society and furtherance of general welfare. We, therefore, conclude that the obligations with a strong emphasis on its nature, institutional arrangement and to actively cooperate with the duties made by the institution or any other official declaration are included into the fairness principle.

When the condition of fairness is fully satisfied the concept of justice will not remain far behind. We thus see that fairness, defined by Rawls, in his own way, practically constitutes the core of the theory of justice. But in close analysis it will be found that it is nearer to the traditional idea of justice which states that justice means to give everyone his due share.

Contract Theory and Justice:

We have just now elaborated Rawls’ view of justice as fairness. We now turn our attention to the origin of justice as fairness. After good deal of labour Rawls concludes that justice as fairness can aptly be traced to the social contract theory explained by Locke, Rousseau and Kant. He states that the contract theory has several facets such as formation of civil society set up a government. But Rawls is not concerned with all these facets. His chief aim is how the original agreement helped the establishment of justice in society.

The rational and free individuals met together and settled among themselves the principles of original contract:

(1) One such principle is they would cooperate among themselves to further their interests.

(2) The society shall be established on the principle of equality.

(3) Subsequently other terms of agreement may be finalised but these two terms—Cooperation and equality shall guide and control these terms.

(4) On the basis of contract a society or government will be constituted but the purpose of this government (or society) shall be to ensure justice. John Rawls claims that the justice established in this way can be called justice as fairness.

The basic condition of the contract is that the persons who made the contract agreed to cooperate with each other and Rawls believes that this is a very important condition for furthering justice. Through the instrumentality of cooperation all the contracting individuals will fix up the principles that will determine the division of social benefits and allot fundamental rights and duties to which they are all entitled. Not only this the terms of the agreement will regulate the claims of persons.

This indicates that none will be allowed to claim anything which he cannot do. So far as this interpretation is concerned it is quite correct to say that contract theory builds up the foundation of justice as fairness.

Modus Operandi:

Rawls has very briefly stated how contract established justice as fairness. In the state of nature all its inhabitants enjoyed equality and after forming a contract they finalised certain terms and conditions for the realisation of a number of purposes. This contract opened the way of attaining justice. They decided the principles for the allotment of rights, duties and all the social advantages.

But the interesting fact is that all the members of the state of nature were absolutely ignorant of various aspects of society. For example, the relationship among the members of the state of nature, position of the individuals in the society, relationship between individual and the society etc. They did not know their fortune. Rawls calls this un-awareness as the veil of ignorance. (The veil of ignorance, we shall discuss later on.)

For the sake of clarification let us quote Rawls, “The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance. This ensures that no one is advantaged or disadvantaged in the choice of principles by the outcome of natural chance or the contingency of social circumstances”. Justice originated from the fair agreement or bargain. The members of the state of nature entered into contract to make their lives easy, hurdle- free and more comfortable. This made way for arrival of justice.

Reason of Fairness:

We have discussed how a contract initiated justice of fairness and at present we shall lay our hands on the analysis of reasons. According to Rawls the initial position (before the civil society was set up) was appropriate because all the members of the state of nature were similarly advantaged and disadvantaged. None had the capacity to manipulate the situation in his favour.

This appropriate position at the original stage that is at the state of nature was quite congenial for justice which would be fair. The people of the state of nature had very few choices and alternatives and they had to act and decide with those limited choices.

Another reason of why contract theory provided justice as fairness is the people of the state of nature voluntarily assembled together to set up a society and all of them were on equal footing. In the contract theory we find this interesting premise. Though the contention of the contract theoreticians is not founded on historical fact and data the premise they thought was to some extent real. Mention has been made that the parties to the contract were rational.

The main argument behind this assumption is that they abandoned the state of nature and adopted a judicious decision. Rawls thinks that rationality also acts for achieving justice as fairness. Irrational or self interest seeking men cannot be regarded as builders of justice as fairness, because they will manipulate everything in their favour ignoring the general interests of the community.

Veil of Ignorance:

One of the very strong pillars of Rawls’ theory of justice is veil of ignorance which is an imaginary or hypothetical situation. When the members of the state of nature built up a civil society all of them were the prisoners of veil of ignorance. This veil of ignorance is a very important element of justice as fairness. Rawls has explained the concept elaborately in his book.

Different aspects of the concept are stated below:

1. The parties to the contract were not well conversant with the particulars which are associated with society. For instance the nature, formation, function etc., of the society. The ignorance of these facts did not deter them from setting up civil society.

2. People were not well acquainted with their won position such as to what class they belonged? What was their exact status in society? What position people occupied in society.

3. They were also ignorant of the rights, duties, privileges, opportunities etc. Naturally they could not determine the principles and modus operandi of their distribution.

4. They had not formed any idea about good or bad, just and unjust; rationality and irrationality; abilities and inabilities; strength and weakness Because of this ignorant people were not in a position to form an opinion in favour of any one. They had not the ability to disapprove anything. In fact, all of them started their life (which may be called civil life) with a clean slate. This was a very important factor for attaining justice. At least Rawls thinks so.

5. People at the initial situations did not develop any idea about economics, political condition or institution about civilisation or cultural condition.

6. Restricted knowledge or ignorance about the environment in which they lived stood on the way of acquiring adequate idea about certain basic facts. Some of the basic facts are: production of necessary goods, the employment of capital, protection of environment, proper and economic use of natural resources. All these elements of ignorance were the characteristic features of the people of the original position. According to Rawls the original position or situation is the state of nature.

Rawls in this way has analysed the different aspects of the veil of ignorance. We treat this concept as an important part of his theory of justice. But all these aspects of ignorance did not stand on the way of achieving justice.

Rawls says, “As far as possible the only particular facts which the parties know is that their society in subject to the circumstances of justice and whatever this implies.” Rawls further says that the veil of ignorance was not a peculiar characteristic feature of the people of original position but was absolutely natural for them.

The great German philosopher Kant had an idea about this veil of ignorance and he referred it in his famous doctrine of categorical imperatives. Kant was not alone. Even in Rousseau’s writing we get a reference to it. People of the state of nature were ignorant of civil society and because of that they enjoyed liberty. In the opinion of Rousseau civilisation threw a great assault upon the realisation of liberty and because of this they felt the necessity of a new form of society.

Reflective Equilibrium:

Reflective equilibrium occupies an important place in Rawls’ methodology. How Rawls explains it? “I assume that eventually we find a description of the initial situation that both expresses reasonable conditions and yields principles which match our considered judgments duly pruned and adjusted. This state of affairs I refer to as reflective equilibrium. It is an equilibrium because at last our principles and judgments coincide; and it is reflective, since we know to what principles our judgments conform and the premises of their derivation”.

Let us put the idea of John Rawls in a comparatively simple language. “We must constantly check the conclusion of our moral reasoning against our initiative moral motions and possibly readjust the conditions of the original position so as to derive principles which are consistent with these fundamental moral beliefs”.

In order to arrive at certain conclusions in regard to justice individuals prepare judgments of the distribution of right, duties and privileges. We at the same time decide the principle. Rawls says that there shall be an equilibrium between principles on the one hand and judgments on the other. We check the conclusions in the background of morality or ethics. Until an equilibrium situation is reached adjustment and readjustment process continues.

Rawls further observes that this equilibrium position cannot be stable because when new situation emerges the old equilibrium position changes or is disturbed. Since society is in a fluctuating condition an equilibrium can never be stable. Individuals always check the condition in the light of new situation or circumstances.

Naturally the old equilibrium cannot remain in its position. The old equilibrium disappears and makes way for a new one. In this way the whole process moves from one place or position to another.

Justice would be fair if there is a consistency between the principles decided in the light of the original position and our judgments. If there is inconsistency that would give birth to a faulty view about justice. In Rawls’ analysis several factors have been found to interfere and the most important one is the individuals always analyse the entire phenomenon in the background of their moral reasoning. In other words, morality always guides them to take an action or to deceive about the attainment of justice.

In support of our contention we again quote a very lengthy passage from Rawls’ book. “From the standpoint of moral theory the best account of a person’s sense of justice is not the one which fits his judgments prior to his examining any conception of justice but rather the one which matches his judgments in reflective equilibrium? This state is one reached after a person has weighed various proposed conceptions and he has either revised his judgments to accord with one of them or held fast to his initial convictious”.


While explaining justice as fairness Rawls has briefly discussed intuitionism to support the theory. Dictionary defines intuitionism as the theory that primary truth and principles are known by intuition. The intuition means an ability to understand without the need for conscious reasoning. We want to see how Rawls has applied these ideas to his analysis of justice as fairness.

When the individuals are confronted with the task of taking a decision about justice they start to analyse various matters which they think relevant. First of all their duty is to weigh various principles which conform to the concept of justice.

This the individuals do by weighing different principles against one another and this they do by applying intuition and not conscious reasoning. Intuition and not reason is the technique they apply. The aim of the individuals is to arrive at what is just and what is unjust. If we scan Rawls’ analysis in regard to the importance of intuitionism in the determination of justice we shall find it has a great role in finalising the concept of justice and its principles.

Intuitionism or intuitionist theory is based on two ideas. One is there are number of first principles “which may conflict to give contrary directives”. In the second place in intuitionism there is no specific method. Individuals try to reach a balance through the mechanism of intuitionism. Rawls’ view point is for deciding what is justice as fairness men apply intuitionism and no empirical methods.

Two Principles of Justice:

Two Principles Stated:

We have now reached the most crucial section of Rawls’ theory of justice. The main structure of his theory is based on two principles and these he has stated in his book. The first principle is: “each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive scheme of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for others.”

The second principles runs as follows:

“Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both

(a) Reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage and

(b) Attached to positions are offices open to all.”

These two principles are so much important that concept of justice cannot be analysed without them. Not only this the theory of justice revolves around these two basic principles. The principles relate to the fundamental structure of society. Again how the rights, duties and privileges are to be distributed among the individuals is decided by these principles.

Interpretation of the First Principle:

Rawls admits that it is very difficult to make a list of all liberties which individuals can claim. Because in different socio-economic and political structures nature and number of liberties shall differ. In spite of this preliminary drawback we must try to show what the principle exactly means.

In a society there shall exist an extensive list of equal basic liberties. All the persons shall have equal right to all these liberties. No one can claim more than what others have got. Several things are very important here. (1) A society must publicly announce all the liberties to which its members shall be entitled. In other words, the members shall have equal right to all these liberties. These may alternatively be called social values.

The social values include economic, cultural, political, religious freedom. In distributing these rights the authority of the state will not make any discrimination on the basis of race, sex, caste, language etc.

Though Rawls does not categorically state, we surmise that the picture of a democratic state was very much active in his mind because only in a democracy an extensive list of liberty can be found. In fact, Rawls has prepared his theory of justice completely in the background of liberal state and politics. Such states have an elaborate scheme of liberties.

Rawls reminds us that mere announcement of liberties is not of prime importance. The authority must take care that none (because of manipulation or partiality adopted by authority) gets more than the other. The simple implication is that unequal distribution of liberties is not only intriguing but also the main cause of injustice. In the scheme of Rawls liberty has been prioritized.

It means that justice is vital no doubt but if liberty is not given priority and a discrimination crops up in allotting rights and liberties injustice will be an inevitable consequence. For this reason in Rawls’ scheme liberty has been given first preference. Hence we find that mere declaration of rights and liberties does not constitute justice, implementation is of vital importance.

Interpretation of the Second Principle:

We believe that the second principle is more important than the first principle.

The second principle has two parts. In these two parts there are two phrases:

(1) Everyone’s advantage and

(2) Open to all. Rawls himself admits that both these phrases are ambiguous.

So it is not at all easy to arrive at any definite conclusion. But in spite of this ambiguity these two famous phrases cannot be abandoned.

In the first place, government will make utmost efforts to decide the principles on the basis of which all the rights, liberties, duties and privileges will be equally distributed. This principle further asserts that the political system shall not make any discrimination.

We have already mentioned this earlier. This principle has another aspect. Primarily the authority will not allow any type of inequality. Because strictly viewed, inequality or unequal distribution of rights and privileges is an anathema of justice.

But in the second principles Rawls makes heavy concessions for inequalities. He, here, imposes two powerful conditions. Inequalities or unequal distribution of rights, liberties duties and privileges will be allowed on the condition that it will be to everybody’s advantage or in other words, one will not be in disadvantageous position and the other will be in advantageous position. This type of discrimination is harmful for the society.

Again Rawls observes that some may get greater privileges while others will get less. But the reason of this unequal distribution will be allowed on the condition that the privileges and opportunities shall be open to all. Its implication is every one shall have adequate freedom to reach the door of privileges.

There shall be no restrictions. In any political system there are many agencies which allocate the rights, liberties and privileges on behalf of the state. Rawls is of opinion that the agencies must be efficient. If it is not so the advantages or privileges generated by society will not be able to reach every one. Moreover, the allocation of privileges will be so efficient that it cannot be altered further. Allocation of privileges will reach the maximum level.

While distributing the privileges among the citizens the authority must take care of the fact that its doors shall be open to all. That is it must be accessible to all. This accessibility is part of the ambitious scheme—all rights, duties and privileges are open to all. The two things—accessibility to government and open to all-are inseparable. If any person feels that he is deterred from having opportunities which are allotted to others and behind this deprivation there is no valid reason.

The rectification is possible only, if the citizen or the aggrieved person enjoys the accessibility to the authority, “Assigning rights and duties” writes John Rawls “is thought to give a scheme which allocates wealth and income,” authority and responsibility, in a fair way (emphasis added) whatever this allocation turns out to be. It is clear from Rawls’ view that allocation denotes not simply the income and wealth but also the opportunity to participate in the affairs of the government.

Other Aspects of Two Conditions:

For the realisation of equal liberty it is essential that the economy will have a free market system. It is a very important precondition and if it is not satisfied there is no question of equal liberty. Free market means the market or the operation of the market shall be regulated by the basic principles of supply and demand and there shall be no interference of state or any other authority on behalf of the state.

In such an economy individuals will have ample opportunity to enjoy equal liberty. Of course, the state will lay down the principles which will be carried out by all concerned. In this connection Norman Barry observes: The competitive market shall be regulated by the fair equality of opportunity principle. This principle then sanctions those social policies which are designed to mitigate the effects of social contingencies which give some groups and individuals, unfair advantages over others.

But there is one objection against this assumption or principle and this is it is egalitarian in nature. We believe that it is to some extent Utopian. It cannot be expected that everybody will have the opportunity to enjoy equal liberty in an economic structure which is regulated by this principle. Utopian because those who control and manage the economy will not allow others to reap full benefit of such an economy.

Rawls has offered us a way out. While implementing the scheme of distributing opportunities, rights and duties the authority must give due consideration to natural talents. Rawls has argued that if the structure of society is modified that will provide ample scope for the distribution of wealth and income on the basis of natural abilities and talents.

The holder/owner of natural abilities and talents will get higher returns or remuneration. This will lead to inequality. But Rawls and many others apprehend that this type of distribution of income and wealth on the basis of natural talents is arbitrary and may encourage criticism.

Rawls, therefore, suggests a midway by pointing out that prioritization of natural talents and abilities will give no problem if this goes to the benefit of the least advantaged. “Those with natural talents are entitled to high earnings only if such inequalities are to the benefit of the least advantaged.”

The moot point here is that inequalities are not, Rawls assumes, harmful for society if they are capable for generating benefits for all including the least advantaged and by pronouncing this Rawls made a welcome for the inequalities directly and bestowing good wishes to capitalism.

We now turn to the concept of efficiency which has a very important role in the field of the distribution of goods and privileges. The realisation of justice is closely connected with this distribution. Rawls has said that if the distribution of goods and privileges and the production of commodities are efficient then the realisation of justice will be possible.

If on the other hand there is inefficiency the victim will be justice. Instead of justice there will come injustice. From the analysis of Rawls it appears to us that the concept of justice is really a complex notion and its attainment largely depends upon the good deal of efficiency of production of goods and articles and their distribution.

Now the question is what is efficiency and inefficiency? If the distribution of goods, income, wealth and privileges is efficient there will be no further scope of distribution no scope for arrangement and rearrangement. That is the distribution system will be excellent.

On the other hand, if it is inefficient there will be scope for further arrangement and redistribution. Rawls says: “An arrangement of the basic structure is efficient when there is no way to change this distribution so as to raise the prospects of some without lowering the prospects of others”.

It is necessary to add few words to the idea of benefit. The aim of justice is to give maximum benefit to all including the least advantaged. Should benefit be interpreted in terms of utility? Do the two terms carry identical meaning? It can categorically be stated that Rawls does not use the term benefit in the sense of utility used by the utilitarians.

The utilitarian’s thought of maximisation of utility irrespective of the distribution and remodelling of social structure. In the existing structure of society individuals will maximise their utility. But Rawls enters into the depth the matter He has also discussed justice in a greater perspective. “The striking feature of utilitarian view of justice is that it does not matter how the sum of satisfactions is distributed among individuals any more than it matters”.

Pure Procedural Justice:

According to Norman Barry Rawlsian theory of justice is blessed with certain advantages and this is chiefly due to the reason that his theory of justice is based on a system of pure procedural justice. We are to go through his ideas about procedural justice. Explaining procedural justice as pure form Rawls says that the activities of a person depend on what the rules empower him to do. Without the authority of rules/laws man cannot do anything.

Of course, if he does anything without the authorisation of law that will be illegal. Simply stated, procedural justice envisages that individuals at first claim some rights and privileges, the principles determine the process/procedure by which these calims are to be satisfied and this in turn is legitimised by the basic structure. 

What is pure procedural justice? The “pure procedural justice obtains when there is not independent criterion for the right result; instead there is a correct or fair procedure such that the outcome is likewise correct or fair provided that the procedure has been properly followed”.

This is, in brief, the pure procedural justice. Rawls claims that in order to understand the pure procedural justice it is necessary to compare it with perfect and imperfect procedural justice.

What do we mean by perfect procedural justice? The fairness of justice and other things such as division of wealth etc. is decided by an independent criterion. Again before the commencement of procedure the criterion must exist.

The Persons concerned with the attainment of the procedural justice are sure that they would be able to reach the goal. If we look at the real situation we shall find that such type of perfect procedural justice is rare.

In order to explain the imperfect procedural justice Rawls cites an example. He says that such form of justice in generally found in criminal trial cases. The lawyers adopt various procedures and arrangements to find out the culprit. The arrangements are selected to fit the situation and they are not previously selected. The important feature of imperfect procedural justice is there is no flexible procedure to arrive at conclusion.

In the light of the above analysis we can reasonably point out certain features of pure procedural justice.

These are briefly stated below:

(1) In procedural justice no separate or independent criterion is used.

(2) For pure procedural justice a fair or correct procedure is followed so that a fair justice can be built up.

(3) Determination of the fair procedure is not enough. Such a procedure must be scrupulously observed.

(4) There is another aspect of pure procedural justice and summarily stated it is— an impartial institution is to be set up or their small be a number of impartial institutions.

(5) Mere setting up of impartial institutions is not sufficient; they must have opportunity to function impartially and efficiently.

(6) All the institutions or branches of the political system must cooperate with each other. This cooperation is indispensable and without it there shall arise chaos.

Basic Structure:

Any analysis of justice is bound to remain incomplete without any reference to basic structure because basic structure according to John Rawls is basic or fundamental to the theory/concept of justice. “The basic structure” defines Rawls, “is a public system of rules defining a scheme of activities that leads men to act together so as to produce a greater sum of benefits and assigns to each certain recognised claims to a share of proceeds.”

It is of prime importance for a comprehensive analysis of justice. It can be explained in a slightly different way. It is a way in which the most important social institutions allocate rights, duties, privileges and responsibility among the members of the community. It further denotes the cooperation between the individuals and the various segments of the basic structure.

The important institutions include the constitution the major political, .social and economic institu­tions which are involved in a number of activities connected with the administration of state. The effects of the basic structure on justice are profound. Its presence in the stages of justice is felt from the very beginning to the end. It is also an integral part of pure procedural justice.


Rawlsian theory of justice is confronted with a number of criticisms and some of them are stated below:

1. Rawls’ theory of justice has been framed in the background of liberal capitalist system. There is a general grievance against the capitalist system that the division of society into clear-cut classes, ownership of the means of production by very few persons, gross inequality of income between the classes etc. create injustice and the rectification of this situation was strongly felt. Rawls’ theory of justice was a type of palliative to this condition. David Easton wanted to justify the capitalist system by his behaviouralism which indirectly stated that liberal political system possessed some self regulatory mechanisms which could withstand the onslaught on capitalism.

Rawls justified the inequalities in the distribution of income, wealth and privileges on the ground that it might be in the advantages to all. He does not utter a single word about the change of basic structure of society. He has introduced some concepts such as “veil of ignorance” “reflective equilibrium” etc. to elaborate his core ideas and support the existing liberal economy’s basic structure.

But we believe that all these are in vain and our stand will be strengthened if we seek the assistance of Ralph Miliband’s critical analysis of capitalist system which he has made in The State in Capitalist Society (1973). Our humble submission is so long as the capitalist system remains intact justice in real sense will remain a far cry.

2. Rawls has said that natural talents and abilities are to be properly rewarded. Our objection is to what extent these natural talents and abilities will come to the benefit of the society as a whole and the least advantaged in particular still is a matter of conjecture. Who are least advantaged? Who will decide it? There may be several categories of benefit and which category is most wanted who will settle it?

All these are highly vexed issues and a balanced theory of justice requires an acceptable solution to all these issues and questions. But, the critics are of opinion that by rewarding the natural talents and abilities to their holders, an illuminating theory of justice cannot be constructed.

3. Rawls has said that economic inequalities are acceptable if they are everyone’s advantage and if offices are open to all. Rawls himself admits that “everyone’s advantages” and “open to all”—these two phrases are ambiguous and we also agree with him.

How can an ordinary citizen deprived of all amenities and economic strength or opportunities compete with other persons for the post of American presidency. Cost of campaign requires millions of dollars and a poor or middle class man cannot imagine to contest for the post of presidency.

4. From his analysis we come to know that justice can be achieved through the implementation of efficiency. But who will implement it? Will the owners of capital and means of production invite the most efficient person to shoulder the responsibility of management in order to ensure efficiency? If anybody feels that the owners of production, in order to ensure an efficient system of production, will invite others to start an efficient system that will be a Utopian idea.

5. “A very difficult problem for Rawls is the identification of the least advantaged. This clearly cannot be literally the worst-of in any society and must refer is some class of persons. Rawls always refers to the representative man of the least advantaged group. He gives definitions of such a person but his whole approach has been vehemently criticised. This is because his methodology precludes him from considering the actual disadvantages of individuals”.

It has further been observed that Rawls’ definition precludes many individuals from the scope of special need and care. Barry believes that Rawls’ analysis creates a big loophole in the body of his theory and this makes his theory, to a large extent, incomplete. He has however made a scope for necessary changes in his prescription when he says that various refinements can be made in practice.

6. Barry has drawn our attention to another limitation of Rawls’ theory of justice. “The nature and justification of the priority rule has been criticised. While in principle this provides a determinate solution to the possible conflicts between principles the priority of equal liberty over economic advantage has been challenged”.

7. The liberals also have strongly criticised his theory on the ground that it is very much egalitarian in nature and Rawls could not deny this charge. Rawls thought that the criteria suggested by him are difficult to apply and they are extremely egalitarian. Even Nozick could not fully support his theory.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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