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John Bordley Rawls


John Bordley Rawls (February 21, 1921 – November 24, 2002) was an American moral and political philosopher in the liberal tradition. Rawls' work "helped a whole generation of learned Americans revive their faith in democracy itself." Normative political philosophy began with the publication of John Rawls' s A Theory of Justice in 1971." Rawls has often been described as the most important political philosopher of the 20th century and Rawls has the unusual distinction among contemporary political philosophers.

Rawls's early life

Rawls was born in Baltimore, Maryland, son of William Lee Rawls, "one of the most prominent attorneys in Baltimore", and Anna Abell Stump Rawls. Rawls attended Princeton University, where he graduated in 1939 and "became deeply concerned with theology and its doctrines." Rawls was enlisted in the Army in February, 1943.

Military service (1943–46)

During World War II, Rawls served as an infantryman in the Pacific, where he toured New Guinea and was awarded a Bronze Star; and the Philippines, where he endured intensive trench warfare and witnessed horrific scenes such as seeing a soldier remove his helmet and take a bullet to the head, rather than continue with the war. There, he lost his Christian faith.

Rawls and Religion

John Rawls's influential theory of justice and public reason has often been thought to exclude religion from politics. John Rawls theory has been criticized for marginalizing and alienating the wealth of religious sensibilities, voices, and demands that is part of contemporary liberal societies. The main theme of Rawls's theory offer sophisticated resources for accommodating and responding to religions in liberal political life. The Rawls view stressed on the subtlety, openness, and flexibility of his sense of liberal "respect" and "consensus," revealing their inclusive implications for religious citizens.
At the same time Rawls offer ways for accommodating non liberal religions in liberal politics, developing his conception of "public reason" into a novel account of the possibilities for rational engagement between liberal and religious ideas. Rawls critics also focus on testing the Rawls's liberalism from the "transcendent" perspectives of religions themselves, critically considering its normative and political value, as well as its own "religious" character. Rawls and Religion makes a unique and important contribution to contemporary debates over liberalism and its response to the proliferation of religions in contemporary political life.

Rawls Socialist

Rawls hoped that by developing a theory of justice that appealed to basic moral intuitions as well as rational self-interest, moral theory could contribute to a public “sense of justice” that placed divisive conflicts in the context of agreed-upon principles. “justice” means, our conflicting views about politics and economics might at least take place on common ground. Rawls explained his theory by contrasting it with utilitarianism. Utilitarianism, he reasoned, is insufficient for a theory of rights and an account of the public good. Under utilitarianism, the greater good can always be invoked to supersede fundamental rights and liberties, and maximizing average utility, so this principle not protect interest of minority and women whose interest compromise to fulfil the aspiration of majority

To address these issues Rawls’s theory of justice suggested:

  • Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all. This include:
    • the right to vote and hold public office;
    • freedom of speech, assembly, and conscience;
    • protection from arbitrary arrest and seizure;
    • “the right to hold (personal) property.”
  • Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that it provide greatest benefit of the least advantaged and attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity. This principle regulated distribution once above rights were guaranteed.

Rawls view on Capitalism

Rawls was hopeful for liberal democracy was progressing on a basically just, egalitarian path. But, he worried that liberal democracy was in decline by the mid 1990s. Rawls was concern due to rich people funding of elections and possibly controlling the institution to serve their interests.
Political liberties:
  • running for office,
  • using free speech and association to affect legislation, and
  • voting in fair elections —
might be formally granted to all, but if wealthy class dominating the institutions how common people interests will be protected. Rawls viewed society as a cooperative endeavor that should benefit everyone. But this concept threatened if some elite dominate the higher office and institutions. So Rawls thought that welfare-state capitalism could approximate his ideal of a just society. but main drawback of this system is that it “permits a small class to have a near monopoly of the means of production.”
This kind of control allows the few to “enact a system of law and property ensuring their dominant position, not only in politics, but throughout the economy.” While Welfare-state capitalism in the direction to provide level playing field to all but permits concentrations of power that corrode democracy not only means that it fails to protect political liberty: it “rejects the fair value of political liberties.”

Veil of Ignorance

The "veil of ignorance" is a method of determining the morality of issues. It asks a decision-maker to make a choice about a social or moral issue and assumes that they have enough information to know the consequences of their possible decisions for everyone but would not know, or would not take into account, which person they are. The theory contends that not knowing one's ultimate position in society would lead to the creation of a just system, as the decision-maker would not want to make decisions which benefit a certain group at the expense of another, because the decision-maker could theoretically end up in either group. The veil of ignorance is part of a long tradition of thinking in terms of a social contract that includes the writings of Immanuel Kant, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson, John Harsanyi and John Rawls.
Example: If you are USA citizen then you will advice Indian govt to not provide LPG subsidy to middle class family which can afford LPG without govt support, but middle class family in India want govt subsidy for LPG cylinder. Similar example like Rights for LGBT communities, OBOR project for India and Pakistan etc