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John Rawls’s Principles of Justice

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Rawls objective of A Theory of Justice, published in 1971, was to provide an alternative solution to the then-dominant utilitarian principle of justice, which held that, a society is right and morally just, if major institutions maximized what is intrinsically good, to the satisfaction of the vast majority of people in a society (Ibid: 21). In rejecting the utilitarian principle of utility, Rawls set forth his conception of justice, which was egalitarian in nature. It would perhaps be helpful to look at some definitions of justice, before analyzing Rawls’s conception of justice. The dictionary of legal theory defines justice as the set of moral and political constraints on human interactions (Bix, 2004: 108). There have been significant debates about the nature and source of standards of justice, and some skeptical thinkers argued that standards of justice were grounded only in the conventional views of society, or in a community’s traditions (Ibid: 108). Other theories viewed the principles of justice as a general agreement among people under certain ideal conditions. A traditional view of justice described standards that are eternal and unchangeable, established by God, the nature of the universe, human nature, or some combination of these (Ibid). D.D.Raphael (2001:1), a theorist of justice, recognized justice as a complex concept thatpervaded social thought and is basic to law, ethics, and politics alike (Raphael:1).The first part of this principle is better known as the difference principle, while the second part is called the equal opportunity principle. While the idea of equal opportunity could be easily explained, the difference principle has drawn much controversy among political theorists.