The relation between Rawls' two principles of justice : a critical examination

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

John Rawls' principal aim in A Theory of Justice is to explicate a moral theory, justice as fairness, based on an interpretation of the social contract, which offers a substantial alternative to utilitarian thought in general. Rawls concentrates on justice because, in his opinion, it is the most important virtue of the arrangement of the basic structure of society. Two main principles, namely, (1) the principle of liberty and (2) the principle of fair equality of opportunity and the difference principle, are the prime constituents of Rawls' special or ideal conception of justice. I intend to discuss the content and the ordering of the main principles from the perspective of those formulating them. There are five parts to my analysis. In Chapter One the main themes and the overall plan of A Theory of Justice are described. Chapter Two is devoted to a discussion of the original position which is the starting point of Rawls' theory. The principle of liberty, and its priority, are the subject of Chapter Three. Chapter Four focuses on both the principle of fair equality of opportunity and the difference principle, the relation between these principles, and the relation between each part of the second principle and the principle of liberty. Finally, in Chapter Five, the conclusions of the previous chapters will enable me to comment on the suitability of these principles as the standard of a just society.

Bibliography: p. 122-136.