RAWLS DISCUSSION QUESTIONS (Week #5 Readings Only):


            1.  Rawls's Social Contract Theory.  In his 1971 book, A Theory of Justice, John Rawls developed a social contract theory of justice.  The two basic principles of Rawls's theory are stated on pages 5-6 of our reading from his recent 1993 book, Political Liberalism.  In the earlier book, Rawls focused primarily on the second principle (the Difference Principle).  In our readings, Rawls provides a much more detailed discussion of the justification of the first principle (the Liberty Principle).  A "social contract theory" is one which explains moral or political principles in terms of what some group of people did agree to or would agree to under some specified actual or hypothetical circumstances.  For Rawls, the relevant agreement is hypothetical, not actual, one that would be reached by free and equal persons in an Original Position, behind a Veil of Ignorance.  Rawls argues that free and equal  persons would agree to guarantee themselves an equal right to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties which is compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for all.  If successful, I will say that Rawls's argument would provide a social contract justification of the Liberty Principle. 

            Reading Rawls is almost like learning another language.  There are many terms that are inter-defined, so that there is no translation manual.  You simply have to learn the language by listening to him speak it.  To become fluent in the language, your goal should be to be able to explain the following terms (Don't be discouraged if you are unable to do so after a single reading!):  reflective equilibrium, fair terms of cooperation; free and equal persons; overlapping consensus; comprehensive doctrine; political (not metaphysical); cooperation; reciprocity; two moral powers (capacity for a sense of justice and for a conception of the good); determinate conception of the good; Original Position; "basic structure" of society; Veil of Ignorance; hypothetical and nonhistorical agreement; well-ordered society; the Reasonable; the Rational; rational autonomy vs. full autonomy; basic liberty; fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberty; Liberty Principle; Difference Principle; the priority of liberty; restriction vs. regulation of liberty. primary goods; and the worth of liberties.

            Also, keep in mind Rawls's warning (p. 28) to distinguish the following three points of view:  (1) parties in the original position;  (2) citizens of a well-ordered society; (3) ourselves in the U.S. today.


            2.  What are the two moral powers?  How does the Original Position model them both?  What does Rawls mean by “a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties”?  [Hint:  fully adequate for what?]


            3.  Why assume a society of free and equal moral agents?  Could a party in the Original Position prefer what I will refer to as a "Beehive Society"--that is, an orderly society of unfree and unequal citizens in which everyone simply performs their social role and does not have to endure either the anxiety of being a free agent or the disorder of a liberal society that tolerates dissent?  Could a party in the Original Position prefer Plato's Republic to a society of free and equal moral agents?  Could one argue for a Beehive Society or for Plato's Republic in the Original Position as Rawls describes it?


            4.  What are Rawls’s two principles of justice?