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John Rawl’s theory of justice

Written by : Sanya , Symbiosis law school,  Noida


John Rawls[1] (1921- 2002) was a well-known American philosopher and political theorist noted for his major contributions to moral and political philosophy. His greatest work “A Theory of Justice,” which was released in 1971, dramatically changed how people talk about justice and equality today. Rawl’s contributions have shaped our understanding of justice, rights, and resource allocation in a just society, and they have had a significant and enduring influence on political philosophy, ethics, and public policy.

The core of Rawl’s philosophy is justice as fairness, which he established via a rigorous conceptual framework and several ground-breaking concepts. His theory is predicated on the idea that to establish a society that is just, equal, and respectful of individual liberty, the fundamentals of justice should be decided by a methodical and unbiased procedure that is free from bias or self-interest. The core of Rawl’s theory is his thought experiment, the “original position” behind the “veil of ignorance,” which offers a theoretical framework for people to create fair and just social and political structures. We will go over the main points of Rawl’s theory of justice in this writing, as well as the original viewpoint and the principles he developed from his ground- breaking methodology.


The theories of justice advanced by John Rawl in his landmark book “A Theory of Justice”[2] (1971) have had a significant and enduring influence on political philosophy, ethics, and public policy. One of the most important and thorough theories of justice in modern philosophy is frequently regarded as being Rawls.’ Here, we will examine the main ideas and consequences of Rawl’s theory of justice:

The Original Position:

The original position[3] is a theoretical and conceptual thought experiment. It symbolizes a situation where people gather to set the fundamental principles of justice that will guide a community. It acts as a template for an impartial and equitable decision-making process.

According to Rawls, if rational people are devoid of their privileges, riches, social positions, and personal traits, they would still convene to discuss fairness principles.

The original position is crucial to Rawl’s theory because it removes partiality, self-interest, and human bias from the definition of the justice process. People in this stage have no idea if they will be wealthy or not, a man or woman, well or ill, and so forth. They are compelled by their ignorance to think through a “veil of ignorance.”

The Veil of Ignorance:

The original position’s central idea is the veil of ignorance[4]. It stands for the context in which people are thought of when discussing justice-related concepts. People are blind to their own traits, social standing, and social situations behind this curtain. They are making choices without considering their own place in the social and economic hierarchy.

The veil of ignorance aims to ensure impartiality and fairness in the creation of justice principles. It stops people from favoring laws and ideologies that could unfairly advantage them at the expense of others. Because they could end up in any position in society, it forces people to consider justice from a fairness perspective, where they are not compelled to adopt norms that are equitable for everyone.

Impartiality and Justice:

Rawl’s dedication to impartiality and justice[5] is demonstrated by his usage of the veil of ignorance and the original position. He contends that the foundational ideas of justice ought to be drawn in a way that makes sense to reasonable people who value justice and are risk averse.

This method contrasts with a utilitarian viewpoint, which frequently concentrates on maximizing overall value without considering how benefits and responsibilities are distributed. Since those hiding behind the veil of ignorance would be driven to reduce the risks and disadvantages associated with their positions, Rawl’s theory insists on considering the least advantaged member of society.

Two principles of Justice:

The First Principle- “The equal basic liberties principle”

According to this principle, every individual has the right to the greatest extent possible to fundamental rights that are consistent with a set of liberties that are equal for everyone. These fundamental rights encompass a range of freedoms, including civil and political rights (such as the freedom from arbitrary arrest and the right to free speech and assembly). Equal access to the fundamental freedoms and rights required for everyone to exist as independent, self-governing people is guaranteed by Rawl’s emphasis on equal basic liberties. This tenet demonstrates his dedication to upholding individual liberties and discouraging the exercise of arbitrary authority.

The Second Principle- “The difference principle”

There are two components of the second principle. The first part permits social and economic disparities, but only if they help the most disadvantaged people in society. In other words, when inequalities strengthen the position of the most defenseless and disadvantaged people, they are acceptable.

Equal access to chances and positions is a requirement of the “fair equality of opportunity,”[6] the second component of difference principle. It creates fair play for all and stops structural inequality that results from birthright advantages.

The First Principle’s Priority:

According to Rawls, the first principle has lexical precedence over the second. This indicates that the second principle, which addresses economic and social inequality, is subordinate to the first principle, which emphasizes fundamental rights. The fundamental liberties of every citizen must not be compromised by any inequality that is allowed under the second principle.

Equitable Access to Opportunities: 

The fair equality of opportunity principle, which guarantees that people have an equal chance to compete for positions and offices in society, regardless of their histories or circumstances, is incorporated into Rawl’s theory. This idea helps create a society that is more meritocratic and just.

Reflective Equilibrium:

For developing his theory of justice, Rawls proposes a “reflective equilibrium.”[7] To achieve a logical and justifiable framework, we must continuously modify and improve our moral and political ideas by contrasting our judgements about specific circumstances with the principles of justice.

Comments and Discussions:

Philosophy, economics, and politics have all engaged in intense arguments over Rawls’ thesis, which has been roundly criticized. Critics have expressed doubts about his theories’ practicality and the difference principle’s capacity to accomplish its objectives in actual situations.


In conclusion, John Rawls’ theory of justice offers a comprehensive framework for comprehending and achieving fairness in society. It is based on the original position and the veil of ignorance. Priority is given to fundamental rights, and the equal basic liberties and difference principles are strongly emphasized. Meritocracy is ensured by the idea of fair equality of opportunity. The reflective equilibrium advocated by Rawls promotes continuous improvement of political and moral convictions. Even though his idea has generated a lot of controversy and criticism, it is still a fundamental point of reference in today’s political philosophy and justice debates, which aim to build a more just and equal society for all.



[1] "The Legacy of John Rawls (2005) 4(2) Politics, Philosophy & Economics 155,

[2] M. Lessnoff, 'John Rawls’ Theory of Justice' (1971) 19 Political Studies 63

[3] Richard B. Parker, 'The Jurisprudential Uses of John Rawls' in John W. Chapman (ed.), NOMOS: American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy (Nomos 1979) 269.

[4] D. J. Bentley, 'John Rawls: A Theory of Justice' (1973) 121 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1070

[5] Anthony J. Fejfar, 'In Search of Reality: A Critical Realist Critique of John Rawls' A Theory of Justice' (1990) 9 St. Louis U Pub L Rev 227.

[6] Ho Mun Chan, 'Rawls' Theory of Justice: A Naturalistic Evaluation' [2005] 30(5) Journal of Medicine and Philosophy: A Forum for Bioethics and Philosophy of Medicine 449

[7] R. M. Hare, 'Rawls’ Theory of Justice–II' (1973) 23 Philosophical Quarterly 241

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