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1.1 Background of the study – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – — 1
1.2 Statement of problem – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – — –6
1.3 Purpose of the problem – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – — 7
1.4 The scope of the study – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – — -8
1.5 The significance of the study – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — 8
1.6 Methodology – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – 9
1.7.0 Definition of Terms – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – — — -10
1.7.1 Justice – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – -10
1.7.2 Capitalism – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – 13
1.7.3 The poor – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – 13
2.1. Literature Review – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – 16
3.1. Brief Biography of John Rawls – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – 33
3.2. Justice as fairness – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – 34
3.2.1. The subject of Justice – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – — –36
3.2.2. The principles of justice – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – –38
3.2.3. Two principle of justice – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – —38
3.2.4. Interpretation of principles – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — 40
3.3. The original position and the veil of ignorance – – – – – – – – – — – —44
3.4. The Rationality of the parties – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – -46
3.5. The Concept of Justice in the political Economy – – – – – – – – – — – -48
4.1. Adams Smith’s Appraisal of Liberal capitalism – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – –57
4.1.1. Merits of Capitalism – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – —61
4.2. Karl Marx’s Critique of capitalism – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – —–63
4.2.1 Demerit of Capitalism – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – -68
5.1. Evaluation of Rawls’ theory of Justice – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – -77
5.1.1 Merits of Rawls’ Justice as fairness – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – -78
5.1.2 Demerits of Rawls’ Justice as fairness – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – 84
5.2. Ways of alleviating poverty in our society – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — 90
5.3. Concluding Reflection fairness – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – 93
5.4. Bibliography – – – – – – – – – — – — — – – – – – – – – – — – —- – – – – – – -97
This thesis is designed to make a critical evaluation of John Rawls’ approach
to social justice (distributive Justice), especially as he in his books, A Theory of
Justice, that there is inequality in the society and anything that will worsen the
already bad condition of the poor. The pervesion of justice in the society both in
political and economic sectors has resulted in existence of a wide gap between the
rich and the poor. This he says has in turn contributed in worsening the already
deplorable condition of the poor. He therefore holds that the sure way of correcting
this social ill is the application of the principles of his ‘ Justice as fairness’ in the
society. In evaluating this notion however, we came to the conclusion that even
though Rawls’ principles of justice as fairness are idealistic (hence, is Utopic), it is
stil useful in practical life; for it among others things, tells us what we should do to
correct injustices, deep distrust, and material deprivation.
Each individual human being says Fagothey is not alone in the world, but
lives in company with human beings1
In other words; each of us is more than an
isolated individual. In fact, many living beings thrive better in group, clusters,
colonies, or herds in which there may be some degree of cooperation. This therefore,
gives us the idea of society. But society in the strict sense can be “formed only by
rational and free being since it is union based on agreement about goals”2
However among the basic element for the existence of society are: “cooperation
among members, for the achievement of common good; and moral bonds means and
end.”3 Based on these elements, society may therefore be defined as “an enduring
union of a member of persons morally bound under authority to co-operate for a
common good.”4
The common good is therefore, the end for which society exists. It
is also regarded as “an intermediate end, (in so far as), it is a means toward the
ultimate end of each member of the society.”
However, while the collectivists (i.e., the communist and the socialist), stress
on making the common good, entity over and above the individual good, the
individualists (i.e., the liberal capitalists) emphasize eon making the common good a
mere sum of individual goods. But an adequate view of society and the common
good must find a place between these two extremes. And that is John Rawls’ theory
of (social) justice aims at achieving.”5
In other words, in social justice, citizens put
in and receive their measure of their social goods from the society in proportional
manner. Hence it requires not only a just distribution of the socio- economic out but
the possibility of making fresh productivity, so that those who engaged in socioeconomic cooperation may be able to increase their income”6
The common good is therefore realized only in the individuals who make up
society, but it is good that they achieve only by the cooperative interaction of the
many. In other words to have a common good that can be the end of society, it is not
enough that it concerns several persons. That might give us two interdependent
private goods, such we find in contracts of exchange only in wages from his or her
labour, each benefits the other, but they have not a common good in the strict sense.
To have a common good as end of their joint effort, the employer must be genuinely
interested in the welfare of the employee, the employee must in turn, have at heart
the success of business; and these two interest must in turn merged into one common
enterprise. They must help each other not only accidentally, because their private
goods are entangled but essentially because they share in the one same good. For the
lack of this common good, the type of employer- employee relationship normally
found today, especially in the capitalist society, said to be wanting.
However, because of the dynamic nature of the common good (especial in its
concrete sense), due to the dynamic nature of society, the perfect attainment of the
common good is never realizable. Thus, man’s problem appears to be rooted in the
general imperfection and contingencies that mark his universe. These include the
obvious human scarcity and needs and also glaring inequalities of life. These factors
are ethically relevant because they tend to affect the life of man adversely. In other
words, when human need combines with scarcity, there emerges what M. Rearden
calls the “inescapable pressures”7
of human existence, which seem to create the
conflict of interest, that make the issue of right and justice necessary. Justice as one
of the cardinal virtues has therefore been postulated as one of the ways of living that
would ensure that would ensure peaceful and ordered co-existence in human society,
and most importantly for the attainment of common good in that society.
From the time of Aristotle, the word justice has been used in general sense
and particular sense. In a general sense, justice is broad as to cover all the virtues
that have any social significance. But in the particular sense, justice is that moral
virtue which regulates our conduct towards other men. Hence it incline s us to give
to each person what is due to him or her. Particular justice could be distributive or
commutative justice.
Distributive justice, which Aristotle calls general justice and Thomas Aquinas,
“legal justice,” refers to the organization of society in such a way that the which all
are expected to contribute in proportion to their ability and opportunity, is available
to all the members, for their ready use and enjoyment. It shows itself more in
economic, industrial racial and political relations but does not restrict itself to these.
It involves everything connected with being good citizens or a good member of
society and reaping what ought to be the reward of upright and cooperative social
conduct. ‘
However, John Rawls see “justice as fairness”. And in his Theory of Justice,
he develops principles of justice to govern a modern social order. Rawls hold that
the principles of justice ought to be chosen behind “ a veil of ignorance”10 In other
words, for Rawls, hold that the principles that will eventually emerge as legitimate
for guiding the individuals in the society ought to be formulated under a certain
condition of fair and impartiality. Rawls’ main aim in saying this is to ensure that
common good is not just equally shared but equitably distributed. How this is to be
achieved is what Rawls presented in his theory of social Justice. Rawls therefore
maintains that any arrangement of society that excludes or hinders certain classes or
group within it from their fair share of the common good is a violation of social
justice. In capitalist system for instance, insensitivity to the deplorable condition of
the poor makes it bad. Rawls” effort in his Theory of Justice is therefore to improve
on the capitalist system. It thus tries to remove indifference and insensitivity, to the
plight of the poor, out of capitalism and thereby make it more morally acceptable. Its
premise is that there is inequality in capitalist society and in this circumstance; the
most moral course of action is not to do anything that will worsen the already bad
condition of the poor. Rawls therefore opines, “no action, social arrangement or
change, should be allowed to take place unless it is going to improve the lot of the
poor.”11 This for him should be the standard by which all actions, arrangement or
changes, in the society are to be judged. Thus, Rawls’ main preoccupation in his
Theory of Justice is how to improve the lot of the poor in the capitalist system.
This thesis sets out to critically evaluate Rawls’ theory of (social) Justice. In
doing this ewe shall try to point out some problems with regard to implementing this
theory, and suggest some ways through which these problem can be over come.
“There is inequality in every society” say John Rawls. This creates the classes of the
rich and the poor in the society. In the capitalist system according to him, this
inequality has worsened to the extent that the rich are getting richer, while the poor
are getting poorer. And this he says, constitutes a violation of social justice, since
there is exploitation of labourers by the owners of business firm. The problem then
is how is this ugly situation going to be corrected? This is what Rawls’ theory of
Justice addresses. And so, the problem, which this thesis, whishes to tackle is how,
has Rawls’ theory of (social) justice helped in ameliorating the bad condition of less
privileged in the capitalist society.
The purpose of this study arose from the pressing need to find some ways of
ameliorating the deteriorating condition of the poor in the (capitalist) society. The
perversion of justice in the society both in political and economic sectors has
resulted in existence of ea wide gap between the rich and the poor in the society.
This has in turn contributed in worsening the already deplorable condition of the
poor. Thus, this thesis aims at proffering some poor in the capitalist society.
The study is limited to discussing how social justice should be applied in the
capitalist system, so as to reduce the hardship of the poor therein. However 2, for
proper justification of our topic, we shall use Nigeria socio-economic system as a
case study.
It is hoped that this thesis will help to better the condition of the poor in our
society by reawakening in the mind of the people, the sense of fairness and equality
in dealing with their neighbors.
The study is equally expected to prove that the theory can be converted into
practice; by using Rawls’ theory of social justice to proffer solution to problem of
exploitation in the capitalist system. When successfully done it would then be ea
contribution to the proofs made by many other philosophers of the usefulness of
philosophy to practical life.
Also student carrying out further research on this topic, or other related topics,
may find this study very helpful, for it will serve as an insight into bad condition of
the poor in the capitalist society.
The method employed in this thesis is analytical and critical approach. The thesis is
therefore presented in two dimensions: one is an analysis of Rawls’ theory of
(social) justice and capitalist system. A highlight of the attendant evils of capitalism
is also presented here.
Another dimension is critical evaluation of the significance of this theory with
particular reference to the condition of the less privileged in the capitalist society.
However, for convenience sake, the thesis is divided into five chapters: Chapter one
is a general introduction. Here, the background of the study, purpose the scope and
as well as it significance are presented. Also the method of this approach and the
definitions of some important terms used in the thesis are presented here.
Chapter two is a review of important related literatures. Here some works that
made some vital comment before Rawls’ as well as his contemporaries are critically
reviewed. This helps us to appreciate better Rawls’ theory of Justice as it gives us
the glimpse of the background under which Rawls wrote his book A Theory of
Justice which serves as our main source in this thesis. The review also helps us to
see how some contemporaries o Rawls have reacted to his view in this regard. This
will also help us to know the direction we will follow as we try to evaluate Rawls’
theory of justice in this thesis.
Chapter three is an analysis of John Rawls’ theory of justice. While chapter
four is an analysis of capitalist system. in doing this some merits and demerits of
capitalism are highlighted.
Chapter Five however is a critical evaluation of Rawls theory of justice and its
usefulness in ameliorating the bad condition of the poor in the society. Also our own
suggestions for reducing the deplorable condition of less privileged in the society are
presented here.
For a better understanding of this study, we deem it necessary to attempt the
definition of some basic terms especially as they are operational in this write-up.
These terms include: “justice”, “capitalism” and “the poor”.
Justice means “giving to each man his own and due right”12 It is therefore, a
form and constant will to render to each person that which belongs to him by right.
Justice thus always connotes an equality of some sort. That is, it is based on the
understanding that all men are fundamentally equal hence should be treated equally.
Justice is divided broadly into two: general justice and particular justice. In
general sense, justice is broad as to cover all virtues that have any social
significance. Here it is an equality between one’s action on the one hand and the law
and one’s last end on the other. The task of justice here is to “preserve the order in
the society or even to produce it when the existing circumstances don not form a true
and meaningful social order which promotes the common good”14 General justice
thus involves everything connected with being a good citizen. It requires one for
instance to obey the laws of the society and to promote the common good of that
society. General justice is called legal justice by Thomas Aquinas while some
modern philosopher like John Rawls refers to it together with distributive justice as
social justice.
However in the particular sense, justice is moral virtue, which regulates our
conduct towards other men. Hence it inclines us to give to each person what is due
to him or her. Particular justice could distributive justice or Commutative justice.
Distributive justice is the virtue that inclines a community or organization to
promote the good of the individual. It requires a fair and proper distribution of
public benefits and burden among the members of the community. The aim of
distributive justice is the social good of the individual, his well being as a member of
the community. Distributive justice is therefore violated by favoritism and partiality.
Commutative Justice on the other hand, involves two equal parties adequately
distinct, that is, it is between one man and another, or between groups acting as if
they were private person. Commutative justice therefore maintains equality between
individuals. This by no means entails equal possession among all individuals but that
the possessions of all are invioble. In other words, it demands the exchange of things
of equal value and that the right of others should be respected (hence the Latin word,
commutatio). The object of this type of justice is not the common good as such but
the good of the individual. Hence it stresses that the rights of each person in the
community must be adequately respected.
However, since only commutative justice involves distinct parties and since
its object actually attaches to one by right, it alone is strictly justice, and the
definition of justice given above (i.e., giving each person his due) alone applies fully
to it.”15 Also since the fundamental requisite of justice is that each one should have
what is his, restitution is necessary for violations against commutative justice. In
other words, when that which belongs to a man is unlawfully withheld from him,
the equality of justice demands that it be returned to him”.16
This is defined as an economic system in which the means of production and
distribution are for the most part; privately owned and operated for private profit. Its
essentials are the private ownership of the means of production, private enterprise
and unlimited acquisitiveness life. Capitalism has its merit and demerits, as we shall
see in due course.
1.7.4 THE POOR.
The poor according to Webster’s Dictionary, “are those who have
little money, that is, not having and not able to get the basic necessities of life”.17
1. M.A. Gonslaves, Fagothey’s Right and Reason,
th ed. (Columbus: Merrill Publishing Company, 1989) P. 294.
2 . Ibid., P. 297.
3 . Ibid.
4 . Ibid.
5 . J. Rawls, A theory of justice, (London: Cambridge, Mass; Belknap press of
Harvard University, 1972), p 3.
6 . B.O. Eboh, Living Issues in Ethics, (NSUKKA: Affro-Orbis Pubs; Ltd,. 2005) P.
7 . M. Reardon, Deed and Truth, (Dublin, Condra, 1976), p.2.
8 . Since law directs to the common good, general justice is legal justice. Legal
justice directs man to common good immediately, but to the good of the individual
immediately. (C.f., M.I. Nwoko, Basic world political theories. (Ancient
contemporary). (Claretian Institute of philosophy Maryland Nekede Owerri, 1988),
9 . Rawls, Theory of Justice. Op. cit., P.3.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Gonslaves, Fagothey’s Right and Reason….. Op. cit., P.208.
13. Ibid.
14. J. Ekei, Justice in Communalism: A Foundation of Ethics in Africa Philosophy,
(surlere-Lagos: Realm communication pub. Ltd; 2001), P.6.
15. Justice in its strict sense, involves two things:
(a) Parties adequately distinct (b) an object with actually belongs to someone by
right. Consequently general (legal or social) justice and distributive justice, are not
strictly speaking justice. First, as general or social justice is concerned, the
individual is not completely distinct from community. Second society demands that
something which it does not yet posses becomes its property. The same is true of the
individual under distributive justice. (c.f. C.M. Ekwutosi, Virtue, Unpublished, pope
John Paul 11 Major Seminary, Awka, 2001, P.10).
16. Also, restitution does not enter into general (legal or social) justice and
distributive justice. Thus, is a citizen withholds something due to state through
general justice, though he does wrong, it cannot be said that he is keeping public
property in private hands. At they bidding of the law he has failed to convert to
public use some of his private property. For example, one who fails to pay tax. So
too, with distributive justice. The reward and emoluments, which a citizen may have,
claim to from the state do not become his until the state gives them to him.


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