Correcting John Rawls’s Social Justice

John Rawls is the modern architect of social justice. His blueprint for its design was published in 1971 as, “A Theory of Justice.” Theological philosophy (specifically, political theology) has been wrestling with it ever since.

According to John Rawls, the most fundamental virtue in any of society’s institutions is justice. Irrespective of efficiency and order, these institutions are to be abolished or changed if they contain any injustice. In other words, justice is the virtue of virtues. This is a direct inversion of the Augustinian view of order as the prime social virtue.

Furthermore, he seems to understand social justice and justice itself as coterminous, since he declares that the principles of justice are social justice, which he defines as principles that are to “provide a way of assigning rights and duties the basic institutions of society and they define the appropriate distribution of benefits and burdens of social operation.”

What is the basic argument for social justice? Dr. Samuel Fleischacker breaks it down this way:

  1. All human beings are equally deserving of respect  (Smith, Rousseau, and Kant)
  2. Respecting human beings means promoting their free agency (Kant)
  3. All human beings have capacities for agency that need development (Kant)
  4. Society shapes the degree to which they can develop these capacities and does so in particular by making resources available to them  (Marx)
  5. Society is a cooperative effort