Political philosophers have different ideas about justice. John Rawls, a Harvard philosopher for instance, views justice as fairness – a concept that exists in a democratic, well-ordered society where people are living freely and equally. The concept of “justice as fairness” is guided by the principles of liberty and equality. The basic structure of society, according to Rawls, is an idealized society where (a) individuals are allowed to practice or demand their rights to basic liberties and (b) a political system maintains social and economic balance to make sure that the disadvantaged are compensated to offset the outcomes of socio-economic inequality. Essentially, Rawls idea of “justice as fairness” is a social and political structure in a society that provides its people equal opportunities for accessing basic needs and achieving personal and professional goals. Hospers, on the other hand, proposed the idea of “justice as liberty.” If Rawls focused on freedom and equality in “justice as fairness,” Hospers focused on human actions and intentions as the important elements in “justice as liberty.”
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In the succeeding discussion, the ideas of “justice as fairness” and “justice as liberty” will be analyzed by comparing and contrasting the principles and elements that make up the foundation of these ideas. Moreover, the analysis of the two political philosophies will be guided by the ideas of Michel Foucault on power and knowledge. The essential idea underpinning Foucault’s philosophy on power and justice involves how human beings learn through discourse, and how knowledge provides individuals with the power to act and make decisions. Consequently, human experiences determine how people will use their knowledge and power and whatever the outcomes will be, these actions and decisions will affect the social and political landscape. Foucault’s ideas will be used to determine how he will respond to the ideas of Rawls on “justice as fairness” and Hospers on “justice as liberty.”
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John Rawls, a Harvard philosopher, is the proponent of justice as fairness. The concept of “justice as fairness” represents Rawls’ philosophy about politics in a democratic society. The three principles that support Rawls’ idea of justice as fairness include: (a) justice as fairness can only be observed in a democratic society – a society that allows freedom and treats its people equally, (b) justice as fairness influences the political and social landscapes, which consequently determines a fair system of justice that guides equal citizenship, and (c) justice as fairness is a value system that is highly valuable in guiding the changes and movements in the political and social landscapes. (Rawls, 40). Moreover, Rawls discussed how justice is seen in the basic structure – a well-ordered society – where the social and political systems are governed by fair agreements that make everyone equal. Basically, justice in the basic society is when people are treated equally or when rules or policies are imposed in order to restore equality for the disadvantaged.
In the basic society, individuals are free and equal, and thus, they “can take part in, or play a role in, social life” and thus, “exercise and respect [their] various rights and duties” (Rawls, 24). Consequently, people who create and enact laws implemented in the basic structure must respect the rights of people such as “the right to vote and to participate in politics, freedom of thought and of association, liberty of conscience, as well as the protections of the rule of law” (Rawls, 28). Therefore, in the basic structure, the concept of justice is grounded on the idea that it is an instrument that those in government, the justice system specifically, utilize in order to ensure that order is maintained in the basic structure. In this idea, order means that freedom and equality is achieved and maintained through legislation. Moreover, the objective of the justice system is to “preserve the conditions of effective and democratic social cooperation on a footing of mutual respect between citizens regarded as free and equal” (Rawls, 28).
While Rawls provides emphasis on the basic structure, the society where legislators understand and enact laws that allow freedom and equality among the people, Hospers, on the other hand, highlights the importance of granting people liberties according to their own will or interests. The primary difference between Rawls’ “justice as fairness” and Hospers’ “justice as liberty” is that the former supports the power of a government, specifically legislators, to ensure that the people are granted justice in the form of freedom and equality while the latter is against the idea of a controlling government that makes decisions, implements and restores order in society. Hospers believes that justice is granting people the capacity to control social and political outcomes, for instance, through revolutionary means. Hospers’ “justice as liberty” is also set in a democratic society, but one that is not grounded by the Rawls’ idea of a basic structure, which governs decision-making and policy implemented in a well-ordered society.
Foucault vs. Hospers, Rawls
Foucault’s idea of power and knowledge can be applied to understanding the current situation of our society today. According to Foucault, power determines who we are us human beings and as a society. Through discourse, individuals are able to conceive the reality of the world that we are living in. Therefore, our power as individuals and as a society stems from our experiences, what we pick up from our external environment. Essentially, what we learn from childhood and pick up from the people who influence us and from our environment determine who we are. From these realities, we decide what is true, and from what we discern as truths, we are able to form conceptions or ideas for many situations, including what is justice, what it should be. Hence, justice is not determined by a social or political system – the basic structure, according to Rawls – buy by the people who see and experience realities in everyday life through lifelong discourse.
If Foucault’s idea of power and knowledge should be used to respond to Rawls’ idea of “justice as fairness,” the latter’s idea about the basic structure will be debunked. As previously discussed, Rawls’ basic structure is a well-ordered society where social and political system governs the people and legislators are expected to enact laws that are aimed at counteracting inequalities to assist the disadvantaged. Moreover, Foucault would argue against Rawls because the concept of a political system enacting laws or restoring equality limits power and opportunities for change. Therefore, Foucault would support Hospers’ idea of “justice as liberty,” which values the power and freedom of the people to achieve justice. Some argue that libertarianism is closely related to anarchy because libertarians believe in the value of individual decisions and preferences. Foucault’s idea of power is aligned with that concept because he believes that power is not something held or controlled by a political system but of by the people. The people should be able to collectively determine what rules or laws should be placed because they are attuned to their realities.
Overall, the difference between Rawls and Hospers views of justice is the value or importance that the two philosophers place on the government and political system. While Rawls believes that justice is realized in the basic structure, a well-ordered society, Hospers believes that justice is granting the people liberties to make decisions, to determine what laws or rules should be implemented in society. The difference between the two philosophies of justice highlights the idea of power and knowledge by Foucault. According to Foucault, we gain power through discourse about our experiences and knowledge of our realities because it is our way of understanding what works for us socially and collectively. Therefore, Foucault’s idea is aligned with Hospers’ idea of libertarianism where justice is controlled by the masses through what they collectively believe is just for the entire population.
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