Cyclists, dog walkers and pedestrians
please show consideration to
those using the path with you
The hard core socialists may say of the above sharing of the path, that everyone can use it because it belongs to everyone; those who do not necessarily believe in anything particular in their political views may think that anyone should be able to use it unless a sign says that you should not; the hard core capitalists may think that you do not trespass on anything unless you own it, and if you do then there is no reason not to make a profit from allowing people to walk on it if you want.
The person who understands justice as fairness will probably think that if you walk on a path, then you give the same respect to those using the path that you would also expect from them.
This post is a re-look at some of Rawl's key ideas based on an interpretation of central concepts from his key works like A Theory of Justice (Revised Edition), Political Liberalism (Second Edition), Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, The Law of Peoples: with "The Idea of Public Reason Revisited", Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy, and a continuing foray into the Collected Papers.
There are an increasing number of introductory works on Rawls and, personally, believe that the best primer is Samuel Freeman's Rawls (Routledge Philosophers). There are of course various Net resources that can be looked up as well. Links and some resources are provided at the end of this piece.
Rawls's ideas are for a well ordered state that is generally a developed society with democratic traditions. There are three main ideas that a society that subscribes to justice as fairness will incorporate:
The two principles of justice, overlapping consensus, and public reason.
Many of these ideas, it must be stated, have been revised by Rawls over the many years of his fruitful work.
One of the assumptions Rawls makes is that people are capable of a sense of right and wrong, as well as a sense of justice.
And in a well ordered society these two principles of justice will be generated:
a. Each person has an equal claim to an adequate scheme of basic liberties, and fair political value.
b. That there are fair and equal economic opportunites for all. And that social and economic inequalities are to be arranged to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society, which leads to the difference principle:
c. that is, arrangements in society that look after the interest of the least advantaged in society.
(There is also the Just Savings principle in which each generation adds to the wealth of a society to pass on to the next generation, and so forth)
This provides the basis for a society to balance freedom, opportunity and duties. The principles are also to take a lexical priority in their enactment meaning that there must be a satisfaction of the principle of liberty first, before it can lead to a proper satisfaction of free and fair economic opportunites and access to public/official posts, and before proper attention can be given to those whose interests need attention as the most disdadvantaged in society.
It must be noted that in the case of the difference principle, Rawls is appealing to working citizens who are in the most disadvantaged positions. It is taken as a given that the interest of those who are handicapped and have special needs etc, will be taken care of by societies in their own manner in accordance with a sense of justice. Rawls in his political conception of justice is looking to basically establish a political framework for a just and fair society which will, naturally, have to be tweaked to suit the society in question.
Rawls makes it quite clear that his ideas are NOT an ideology, they are a set of guidelines and principles that will be adapted accordingly by different societies. That it why he introduces the idea of reflective equilibrium and political constructivism.
Reflective equilibrium essentially refers to an individual or society reaching a point of understanding and balance for all its differing views which can be translated into a social contract with the government of the day on how a country should be run. Based on one's/society's reaction on the ground to issues and different views of people, the set of one's principles are adjusted to accommodate these ground realities. In fact, new ways to interpret and enact one's ideas come into play because of such readjustments and fine tuning of ideas in practice.
Political constructivism would follow from this in the sense that the political institutions of a state and in particular the leaders concerned help construct the political framework of a society based on adjustments made with action and reaction from the body politic.This makes it impossible for an ideological approach to anything to take hold for long.
The process in which this occurs is via Overlapping Consensus which applies in particular to multicultural democracies (which is increasingly the trend of most democracies). The consensus comes about through the reaction of different people bringing in political judgments based on their upbringing, values, cultural and religious influences which shape their perceptions. But in the political construct in which the consensus occurs the sense of justice and political actuality shapes the views that a society can accept in reality.
We need to bear in mind that this has nothing to do with expedience, but rather in doing what is right in a fair and just manner.
People can bring in arguments as to why a certain policy must be issued or interpreted in a certain way based on, for eg, religious grounds but with the Proviso that its justification when brought in is discussed in a manner that can satisfy all concerned in a multifaceted society.
This process of interaction to ascertain such ideas and policies and ways to enact them as described above is also known as the process of public reason.
An example: abortion in many societies is a controversial issue. In a multicultural democracy the way a just and fair political decision is made (and the ensuing laws put into motion) would be done in the context of public reason and the consensus that allowed for it.
So there will be many who are pro or anti abortion based on their cultural, religious and personal views of the matter (of course many may just be indifferent for various reasons as well) known as burdens of judgment. But the decision made on the matter, while reflecting all these views and been tested against the principles of justice, must be one that also allows for mutual respect and reciprocity.
Rawls is really big on being reasonable. That is the trait of civilised societies, at any rate.
Therefore, those who are against abortion do not have to undergo it, can call for proper measures to ensure that the practice is not taken lightly, and would want to exercise their claim to protest against it.
But just as they want to be able to do the above, they must realise on this shared path of democracy they are on, that those who want to have access to legalised methods of abortion for their own reasons are entitled to do so. And the pro abortionists would also make claims to being able to state their views, campaign etc.Naturally, this is far too complex an issue to be dealt with summarily but it should, hopefully, make clearer some of the ideas expressed here.
At any time, when people insist on one point of view without proper regard for that of others and aim to stifle it because they believe they have a monopoly of the truth, then they are not only making it difficult for justice as fairness to operate, but will be making it difficult for general principles of democracy, as most of us understand them, to operate as well.
The bottom line for Rawls is really balance.
A true ecology in politics of avoiding extremes and trying to find that point of equilibrium which, naturally, is always shifting to reflect the dynamics of a society.
To some it is like the Aristotelian golden mean, to others it is like mentioning the old Edwardian family table-saying, "I have reached an elegant sufficiency and anything additional would be superfluous."
So often, people's ideas of justice mean what they say goes, and fairness means things going according to their interests. Unfairness, is when others have things go their own way instead.
But if we drop our obssession with our egos and learn to conquer inner foes and look towards balance, fairness and a sense of right and wrong, we will realise that first, after looking to our own faults which may be in dire need of cleansing, we should look to living in peace, balance and harmony with everyone else as far as that is humanly possible.
Needless to say, Rawls's ideas have not been popular among hate and fear mongers.
Arrogance has never gotten anyone or any society very far without generating equally severe enemies.
Unsurprisingly, Rawls himself was man of great humility.
Some starting points for discovering more about Rawls:
New York Review of Books
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy