Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: John Rawls

Keynesian Utilitarianism

In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls draws a hard distinction between his prioritarian conception of justice and the utilitarian one. We have mentioned prioritarianism in the past, and indeed, this post is a bit of a synthesis of that post with this other one. Prioritarianism is the notion that a just society always tries to improve the welfare of the worst off before anyone else. In other words, the welfare of the poorest is prioritised. In contrast, utilitarianism is about maximising total welfare, regardless of the distribution. These theories seem at odds (indeed, Rawls wrote about utilitarianism as though he were very much at odds with it). Yet, if we adopt a few Keynesian economic principles, I believe the gap can be closed and the two theories shown to lead to more or less synonymous societies, or at least significantly more similar societies than is presently thought.

Read the rest of this entry »

Marxism’s Quarrel with Reality

Today I had an interesting lecture on GA Cohen, a socialist political theorist. Cohen believes that Rawls’ theory of justice is more egalitarian than Rawls himself believes it to be–he has an interesting reason for this, but one which is ultimately flawed in a way that sheds great light on the problems with Marxism more broadly and with the utopian left as a bloc.

Read the rest of this entry »

Unreasonable People

Many of the popular theories of justice claim that all “reasonable people” in a given circumstance would rationally agree to them, and therefore they are just. Rawls, for instance, claims that all reasonable people can readily agree to Rawls’ principles of justice (in order of priority: everyone has as much liberty as possible without infringing on the liberty of others, all people have equal access to opportunities, and inequality is only justifiable provided that it benefits the worst off–“maximin”) because he thinks all reasonable people readily acknowledge that all people are free and equal. This leaves a question open–who are the unreasonable people? Racists, sexists, ethnocentric people, all of those are obviously unreasonable under this theory, but what about conservative theorists? Are they unreasonable, and, if so, what does that mean for theories of justice?

Read the rest of this entry »

Personal Responsibility and Moral Hazard

Today I attended a lecture on the political philosopher Ronald Dworkin, and it made me think some new thoughts with regard to the concept of personal responsibility. Traditionally, I have found myself thinking the concept has relatively little merit, but in this post I would like to reconsider this position and precisely where my view on the just society stands with regard to it, to and Dworkin more broadly, specifically considering moral hazard–the notion that, without some level of personal responsibility, there is long-term damage to people’s sense of duty to society and consequently to societal outcomes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Who Deserves What?

One of the central questions of distributive justice is desert–what determines the size of one’s claim to the economic pie. The conservative right often maintains that certain inherent virtues or positive qualities justify desert. A hard working person is said to deserve more than a lazy person, a smart person is said to deserve more than a dumb person, and so on. This amounts to sort of a virtue ethic, a deontology–these things are inherently good, and consequently those who possess them deserve more. The liberal left has a different answer to this question, one grounded more in consequences and less in arbitrary virtues and vices, and I think there’s a strong case for saying that it more closely reflects reality.

Read the rest of this entry »