Justice as Fairness vs Perfectionism

The Maximin principle advanced by John Rawls, says, contrary to two different kinds of Utilitarianism, the first of which says we should opt for the system which realizes the greatest maximum well-being, the second of which says we should opt for the system which realizes the greatest average well-being, that we should choose the system which realizes the greatest minimum well-being (meaning that the worst off on this system are better off than the worst off on any other system).

An argument for Perfectionism (the view that a just society is one which gets everybody to live a good life) as a preferred theory of justice, therefore, on Rawls’ own grounds, might be purchased if we can successfully argue that Perfectionism realizes a greater well-being among the class of people who are worst off than ‘Justice as Fairness’ does. A second, more promising way, however, might be to argue that the Maximin principle cannot be used to privilege ‘Justice as Fairness’ over Perfectionism or vice versa (i.e., they have the very same Maximin), but either the average well-being or the maximum well-being is better on Perfectionism than it is on ‘Justice as Fairness’. That, it seems, would give us a good argument for Perfectionism other objections notwithstanding (I have in mind not Marxism, but a kind of Aristotelian-Thomistic Perfectionism which begins with Natural-Law).


About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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2 Responses to Justice as Fairness vs Perfectionism

  1. Luke says:

    The interesting thing about the Maximin principal I think is that it is a creation of OUR time. Suppose Rawls asks the question 400 years ago. Do you think any distribution would include slavery? It was widely accepted, and the idea of not having slavery would have been strange. Or what about feudal relationships?

    • That’s an interesting point at first blush, though I would note that Rawls does defend his view against the possibility of justifying something like slavery. His principle, along with his whole theory, takes as a starting presumption what he calls the circumstances of justice, which will include the circumstances of western democratic society (the fact of reasonable pluralism for instance). These circumstances don’t include slavery or the belief in slavery as an example of reasonable pluralism. In fact, slavery is treated by Rawls as an unconscionable injustice. So Rawls does anticipate this objection and answer to it. Nevertheless I think you are on to something here insofar as Rawls’ view seems problematically arbitrary. We can’t simply argue that it is problematic because it is arbitrary (since all law is arbitrary at some points), but his view is arbitrary in an ad hoc and problematic way.

      Also, I think a possible additional trouble with your criticism could be that it seems to presume that we can rely on principles without the advantage of retrospect, which means in essence that we can rely on principles without the advantage of (more) experience. “What would those be” a political theorist would be entitled to ask. Whatever principles you stipulate have to be ahistorical, agreeable to all, etc, and unless you mean to champion a natural law view (which I would welcome, personally) it is hard to see what principles you could stipulate which wouldn’t be culturally/historically idiosyncratic.

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