A Theory of Justice


Have you ever contemplated how to create a fair society? When we do this, we are forming a theory of Justice. John Rawl’s book titled, ‘A Theory of Justice’ puts forth a fair method of producing distributive shares and outcomes.

Moral Force

The moral force behind the principles in 'A Theory of Justice’ is based on a hypothetical contract. By emphasising contracts over consequences, the theory tries to avoid the moral dilemma of treating moral agents as means to an end. Instead of using the model of an actual contract, like the United States Constitution, the theory uses the concept of a hypothetical contact which is more resistant to the exploitation of knowledge and bargaining power.

Veil of Ignorance

The theory of justice asks us to put ourselves behind a veil of ignorance as a thought experiment. Behind the veil, we eliminate our personal features and imagine ourselves in a conscious state before we were born.

Original Position

This state, known as the original position, tries to bring us closer to a position of equality. In this position we should ask ourselves ‘what sort of society would I want to be born into?’ This draws on a sort of joint rationality and helps us to find common ground.

Difference Principle

The third component of the theory of justice can be thought of as speculation about what would be chosen by rational actors in the original position. John Rawls believes in the original position the difference principle, a principle in which inequality is allowed only when it benefits the least fortunate, would be chosen


He also believes that it is not moral to base distributive shares on arbitrary factors and uses this principle to handle various objections to the difference principle. A system based solely on merit, for example, while using what seems to be a non-arbitrary system of distributive shares based on effort or contribution, still succumbs to the arbitrariness of the genetic lottery of talents and the societal lottery of those talents being currently valued. Effort itself is also affected by factors like the arbitrariness of being first born.


“The natural distribution”, says Rawls, “is neither just nor unjust, nor is it unjust that persons are born into society at some particular position. These are simply natural facts. What is just and unjust is the way that institutions deal with these facts.”

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