John Rawls: Lesson 1

The Case for Equality/ John Rawls

1 translation: ”Immanuel Kant appeals to __________ consent. A law is just if it could have been _________ to by the public as a whole” (140).

2 translation: John Rawls offers an illuminating answer to what question?

“In a Theory of Justice (1971), he [John Rawls] argues that the way to think about justice is to ask what principles we would agree to in an initial situation of equality. Rawls reasons as follows: suppose we gathered, just as we are, to choose the principles to govern our collective life – to write a social contract. What principles would we choose”(141)?

3 translation: Would we find it difficult in finding out what principles we would agree to?

4 translation: Even a compromise would reflect ____________

5 translation: ”There is no reason to assume that a _______________ arrived at in this way would be a _______ arrangement”(141).

6 translation: What does a veil of ignorance do?

7 translation: If we don’t know anything about who in particular we are, then we are in a ____________ of equality

8 translation: ”This is Rawls’s idea of the _________________ contract – a __________________ agreement in an original position of equality”(141).

9 translation: What position does the veil of ignorance put us in?

10 translation: What is the purpose of being in the original position of equality?

11 translation: Again, the principles would be about what?

12 translation: Under the veil of ignorance, would we choose utilitarianism?

13 translation: Under the veil of ignorance, would we choose a libertarian principle?

“Rawls believes that two principles of justice would emerge from the hypothetical contract. The first provides equal basic liberties for all citizens, such as freedom of speech and religion. The principle takes priority over considerations of social utility and the general welfare. The second principle concerns social and economic equality. Although it does not require an equal distribution of income and wealth, it permits only those social and economic inequalities that work to the advantage of the least well off members of society” (142).

14 translation: How many principles of justice emerge from the hypothetical contract?

15 translation: What are they?

16 translation: Does social and economic equality mean an equal distribution of income and wealth?

17 translation: Inequalities in social and economic areas are only permitted if ________

“How can principles of justice possibly be derived from an agreement that never actually took place” (142)?

The Moral Limits of Contracts

“To appreciate the moral force of Rawls’s hypothetical contract, it helps to notice the moral limits of actual contracts. We sometimes assume that, when two people make a deal, the terms of the their agreement must be fair. We assume, in other words, that contracts justify the terms that they produce. But they don’t – at least not on their own. Actual contracts are not self-sufficient moral instruments. The mere fact that you and I make a deal is not enough to make it fair” (142).

18 translation: Are actual contracts self-sufficient moral instruments?

19 translation: Of any actual contract, what can always be asked?

20 translation: ”To answer this question, we can’t simply point to the ____________itself; we need some independent _________________”(143).

21 translation: Could the standard come from some larger contract like a constitution?

22 translation: “No ___________ social contract or constitutional convection, however representative, is ________________ to produce fair terms of social cooperation” (143).

“Can consent create an obligation on its own, or is some element of benefit or reliance also required? This debate tells us something about the morality of contracts that we often overlook: actual contracts carry moral weight insofar as they realize two ideals – autonomy and reciprocity”(144).

23 translation: In order for actual contracts to carry moral weight, what two ideals must they realize?

24 translation: Is the actual contract perfect if only one of these ideals is met?

25 translation: “As ______________ acts, contracts express our _____________; the obligations they create carry weight because they are self-imposed” (144).

26 translation: ”As instruments of _______________, contracts draw on the ideal of reciprocity; the obligation to fulfill them arises from the obligation to repay others for the benfits they provide us” (145).

27 translation: In practice, are the ideals, autonomy and reciprocity, perfectly realized in unison?

28 translation: Why isn’t the autonomy ideal not perfectly realized?

29 translation: Why isn’t the reciprocity ideal not perfectly realized?

30 translation: These imperfections of actual contracts point to what?

31 translation: If the agreement really sucks for one person, then ____________ isn’t enough for a morally binding obligation

32 translation: If the agreement draws heavily on the ideal of reciprocity, then _____________ isn’t required

33 translation: In Sandel’s book, what two examples are given when consent isn’t enough

“Consent is not a sufficient condition of moral obligation” (146).

34 translation: In Sandel’s book, what two examples are given when consent is not essential?

35 translation: In Sandel’s broken car, Sam inferred that because there would’ve an obligation of payment if the car had been fixed, there would’ve been an agreement. Is Same wrong?

“It [Sam’s inference] wrongly assumes that wherever there is an obligation, there must have been an agreement – some act of consent “ (149).

36 translation: If a marriage contract is broken due to an affair, what two grounds would there be for moral outrage?

37 translation: What part of marriage invokes consent?

38 translation: What part of marriage invokes reciprocity?

39 translation: Contracts, both actual and hypothetical, get their moral force from two different ideals, what are they?

40 translation: Do actual contracts meet both autonomy and reciprocity perfectly?

“In real life, persons are situated differently. This means that differences in bargaining power and knowledge are always possible. And as long as this is true, the fact of an agreement does not, by itself, guarantee the fairness of an agreement. This is why actual contracts are not self-sufficient moral instruments. It always makes sense to ask, ‘But is it fair, what they have agreed to’” (150)?

In this next lesson, we’ll imagine the perfect contract.

Answers to Lesson 1

1 answer: hypothetical, agreed
2 answer: ”How can a hypothetical agreement do the moral work of a real one”(140).
3 answer: yes
4 answer: superior bargaining power of some over others
5 answer: social contract, just
6 answer: ”temporarily prevents us from knowing anything about who in particular we are”(141).
7 answer: original position
8 answer: social, hypothetical
9 answer: the original position of equality
10 answer: To find out what principles we would choose to govern our collective life
11 answer: governing our collective life
12 answer: no
13 answer: no
14 answer: 2
15 answer: equal basic liberties for all citizens, such as freedom of speech and religion; social and economic equality
16 answer: no
17 answer: they work to the advantage of the least well off members of society
18 answer: no
19 answer: Is it fair, what they agreed to?
20 answer: agreement, standard of fairness
21 answer: no
22 answer: actual, guaranteed
23 answer: autonomy and reciprocity
24 answer: no
25 answer: voluntary, autonomy
26 answer: mutual benefit
27 answer: no
28 answer: some voluntary acts are not mutually beneficial
29 answer: some obligations to repay a benefit arise even without consent
30 answer: the moral limits of actual contracts
31 answer: consent
32 answer: consent
33 answer: baseball cards and the leaky toilette
34 answer: Hume’s House and the Squeegee Men
35 answer: yes
36 answer: consent and reciprocity
37 answer: marital vows
38 answer: the faithful person being loyal
39 answer: autonomy and reciprocity
40 answer: no