John Rawls’s Theories Help Refute John Rawls’s Theories
Last week, I drew attention to the important work of Antony Flew as an opponent of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice. Flew exposes a fundamental fallacy in the famous “difference principle,” which says that all inequalities in wealth or income have to be to the advantage of the least well-off class in society. According to Rawls, it’s a matter of luck that you have talents that enable you to succeed. If the state wants to redistribute what you earn to help the poor, you can’t properly object that you “deserve” your talents. You just have them. Flew says that if Rawls is right about luck, all he has shown is that the category of desert doesn’t apply to distribution. It doesn’t follow that you don’t deserve to benefit from them, because this suggests that there is something wrong with the fact that you do.
Today, I want to talk about another effective critic of Rawls, John Rawls himself. After Rawls wrote A Theory of Justice, many philosophers thought he hadn’t gone far enough. He confines his theory to particular societies, such as the United States. Why not extend the theory so that it applies worldwide? If so, we would be asking about the globally worst off, not just the worst off in our own country.
Rawls doesn’t want to do this, as he makes clear in his book The Law of Peoples (Harvard, 1999). In defending his refusal to extend the difference principle all over the world, he raises some points that can be used against his own theory, even when it is confined to one country. Rawls thus becomes his own critic.
Article from Mises Wire