Here’s Yet Another Way Rawls Was Wrong About Equality
The British philosopher Antony Flew is best known as a leading “ordinary language” philosopher. In reaction to the attempt by the logical positivists and others to settle philosophical disputes through resort to an “ideal language,” the ordinary language movement contended that philosophical muddles often arise through lack of attention to the ordinary use of words. Flew, like his mentors Gilbert Ryle and J.L. Austin, was at the peak of his fame in the 1950s and 1960s. But he continued his work long after that. He argued that John Rawls, the most influential political philosopher of the last fifty years, sins greatly against ordinary language; in particular Rawls ignores the ordinary meaning of “justice.” This is no narrowly linguistic point but undermines his entire theory.
For Flew, the assault on Rawls is more than an ordinary scholarly controversy. Rawls’s lapses from proper standards of philosophical argument, all in the service of egalitarian propaganda, arouse Flew to indignation. Rawls, he notes in a characteristic passage of his book Equality in Liberty and Justice,
must thus have become the first person ever to produce what purports to be a treatise on justice which can find no room even to quote, much less to discuss, any version of the traditional distinction. By this misguided omission Rawls exposes himself to the objection that what he commends as a conception of justice is not, whatever its other merits, a conception of justice at all.
The “traditional distinction” that Flew mentions is that justice is to give to each person what is due to him. In this traditional view, there is no antecedent bias in favor of equality, because people should get what is due to them, which need not be an equal amount of resources. Why would it be?
Article from Mises Wire