Title page for ETD etd-11042005-152503

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Schneider, Nathan
URN etd-11042005-152503
Title Two Theories of Fairness
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department Philosophy & Religious Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Mary Sirridge Committee Chair
Francois Raffoul Committee Member
Jon Cogburn Committee Member
  • John Rawls
  • justice
  • ethics
Date of Defense 2005-10-10
Availability unrestricted
In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls argues that justice is to be understood as fairness. The theory of justice as fairness is an ethical theory which argues that broad principles are able to capture the nature of what constitutes a just society. Rawls argues that all that is required for a society to be just is for it to be fair. A just society is one which has institutions which protect individual rights and liberties of all citizens and has a pattern of distribution of resources.

Rawls' institutional approach to justice has one problem. Rawls' theory of justice as fairness seeks to ignore the issue of moral desert. According to Rawls, a just society is not necessarily responsible for providing people what is intuitively considered their just deserts. Justice is an attribute of society and not individuals.

Rawls' treatment of the issue of moral deserts reveals that his theory of justice as fairness is actually two theories of justice. The first is concerned with the hypothetical structure of an ideal society. The second is his theory of just institutions. In the ideal hypothetical society, Rawls can ignore the issue of desert. In actual social institutions, the issue of desert is more problematic. The issue of desert reveals that Rawls is committed to two theories of justice. The hypothetical theory does not need a theory of desert. The instantiation of the theory, as found in institutions, does require a working conception of desert.

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