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“To be human is to be capable of living in a society with a common good that has no metaphysical content”. Discuss this statement with reference to John Rawls’ notion of justice as fairness.
John Rawls, an American who was described by Bill Clinton as the most influential philosopher was born (1921) and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. His adult life was a scholarly one with the exception of World War II where he witnessed brutality of the holocaust which he described as an unjust war and that citizens should resist repression and aggressive policies of governments.
His most intellectual work is known as justice as fairness, a theory of a just liberal society published in 2001 and he died in 2002. With reference to this theory, I am going to systematically discuss the statement that “to be human is to be capable of living in a society with a common good that has no metaphysical content”.
In his theory, justice as fairness is compared to a liberal society that is fair where free citizen with equal basic rights cooperate within an egalitarian economic system.
Here the common good of public well-being is in the interest of the public. Rawls hold that the most plausible understanding of just society inhabited by a human is inclined by justice as fairness which is superior than that of a dominant traditional society of utilitarianism in the modern political thought. His conception of justice is the legitimate use of power that is just with maximal standard in a democracy.
Rawls argues that legitimacy in its minimal standard of moral acceptability is unjust since political order can be legitimate without being just. therefore, liberal social institutions should be arranged morally best for human to be capable of living in the society which promotes the common good that has a positive impact on the well-being of the public.
The location of justice in a society is essentially important to be a human to enjoy the common good. Therefore, the just arrangement of major political and social institutions which includes the constitution, the legal system, the socio-political economy, the family among others in a liberal society is prominent to be a free human with equal right. This is what Rawls calls the basic structure of society where justice is located because of the institutions’ mandate in distributing the core benefits and burdens of social life. These benefits and burdens comprise social recognition, basic rights, opportunities to get what kind of job, equitable distribution of income and wealth among others. The profound effect on the lives of citizens depends on the form of society’s basic structure. Therefore, to be a human is to be capable of living in a society with a common good devoid of metaphysical content influenced by the basic structures to expand life prospects, goals, attitudes, relationships and character.
However, a liberal society with exploitive and repressive institution must be justified to prevent pervasive influence on people’s lives, coercing them in leaving one’s society which is an unrealistic option for most people and that cannot be a justification that the people have agreed on the basic structure by staying in the society. This would dehumanize the people since the rules in the basic structure with serious penalties would be forcefully enforced due to the request to justify the burden of any particular set of rules made further stronger. It is therefore incumbent on a society devoid of the repressive institution to make humans capable of enjoying the common good within the justified society.
As assumed by Rawls, justice as fairness in a liberal society is marked by the reasonable plurality that is under a reasonably favourable state of enough resources possible to meet everyone’s basic needs to be a human to be capable of living in that society. According to Rawls, society is self-sufficient and closed, citizens enter it only by birth and exit only by death. This shows that a self-sufficient society enhances the lives of people to become humans, capable of living in a society with the common good as well as free, fair and equal basic rights.
Rawls identifies two guiding ideas if justice as fairness in a liberal socio-political society. According to Machiavelli, humans are born free but everywhere he is in chains. This signifies that reasonable citizens would want to live in a social cooperation society in other to lead decent lives. They cooperate with one another in acceptable terms equally beneficial to all and would want to be in a society where political power is legitimately used. Rawls’s justice as fairness is concerned with the liberal ideas of cooperation being fair to all humans who are free and equal and they are responsive to how the benefits and burdens of the corporation are shared among them. Rawls holds that to be human to be capable of living in a society with common good that has no metaphysical content, citizens do not deserve either to be born into an affluent or poor family, born naturally more or less talented, born a boy or girl or born into a particular racial group among others. Although these features are morally uninformed, citizens are not to benefit more from social cooperation simply because of them. The question then is how should these public goods distributed. Rawls then posits that positive distribution should be equality-based reciprocity unless unequal distribution would be to the advantage of everybody. To enjoy the common good as a reasonable human in society, cooperatively-produced goods should be equally divided however, any inequality must be justified if only it would benefit all especially the vulnerable. Equality is then the baseline and any inequality must improve the lives of everyone especially the worst-off. these basic ideas of equality and reciprocal advantage as a result of the cooperation is Rawls’s hallmark of justice as fairness to be a human capable of living in a society to enjoy the common good.
Further, in Rawls libertarian society, fairness is given the institutional form of two principles of justice. Each person in other to be a human capable of enjoying the common good in society has the same indefeasible claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all as the first principle. The second principle is the social and economic inequalities which are to satisfy two conditions: a. They are to be attached to the offices and positions open to all under fair equality of opportunity; b. They are to be the greatest benefit of the least-advantage members of the society (the difference principle). The first principle posit that citizens must not be deprived of the society’s known basic rights and liberties such as freedom of association and speech, liberty of conscience, and of person, the right to vote, be voted for, and to hold public office, and equal rule of law. All these liberties and rights should be entrenched in the political constitution and must not be traded off against other policies of social goods. Also, the second principle which is basically of economic institutions which promote the fulfilment of the first former and fair equality of opportunity is scaled over the difference principle. For example, talents and will be given the same grounds of educational and economic opportunities whether rich or poor in order to be a human to be capable of living in that society.
However, to be a human to be capable of living in a society with a common good that has devoid of metaphysical content with reference to Rawls, then you must be a free citizen. Being a free citizen, you are eligible to make claims on liberal social institutions for your own rights and freedom since citizens are not slaves. As a citizen, you are independent of any particular comprehensive doctrine and free to take responsibilities to plan your own life given the opportunities and resources reasonably expected as well as capacitated to engage in social cooperation. Rawls citizens are not only free and equal, they are reasonable for the sense of justice and rational to pursue the conception of the good which are the two moral powers inherent in humans.
Rawls conception of citizen and society was a move to understand justice as fairness within the social contract theory of Locke, Rousseau, and Kant which he calls the original position. “To be a capable human with free and equal citizenship, what are the fair terms of social cooperation and what agreed terms are free and equal under fair conditions?” With the thought experiment of Rawls original position, we can deduce that all citizen in the society has a representative in one accord to agree on a just term of cooperation and fairer conditions. Here, all representatives in the basic structure are equal and work in the interest of the public good but not his selfish interest. They are prevented from any form of arbitrariness due to the veil of ignorance, a striking feature of the original position. It is therefore significant as a human to be capable of living in a society with the common good that must not be favoured or disfavoured because of race, class, and gender.
In conclusion, to be human is to be capable of living in a society with a common good that has no metaphysical content means you have to be a free citizen with equal basic rights and liberties, reasonable and rational living in an egalitarian socio-economic cooperative society within which basic structures of institutions are located to equally distribute the common goods in a just manner. This is what Rawls refers to as justice as fairness with the maximal standard legitimate power.
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