The Necessity of Liberty

The Necessity of Liberty - The Necessity of Liberty In...

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The Necessity of Liberty In political philosophy, there is no greater question than the proper relationship between the state and the individual. John Rawls directly addresses the issue in his famous work A Theory of Justice, in which he offers a comprehensive argument for an active welfare state. Robert Nozick, his colleague at Harvard, responded only a few years later with Anarchy, State, and Utopia, a work focusing not on a specific formulation of distributive justice, but rather whether any such formulation is possible. Each author develops principles of justice with implications for the role of government. Rawls offers a framework based in the context of social contract theory that appears both logical and egalitarian; his conclusions appeal to both intuition and reason almost inescapably. However, Rawls fails to show an appreciation for the fundamental tension between liberty and equality, and it is a flaw that Nozick duly exposes in his retort. Rawls begins with a Kantian statement that “each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole can override (670).” However, he quickly rejects the premise by declaring “no doubt [these propositions] are expressed too strongly (670).” In the beginning, Rawls acknowledges the tension between an individual and society as a whole. The principles of justice, within his theory, are the principles that best reconcile the interests of the two parties. Society is described as a “cooperative venture for mutual advantage,” although “it is typically marked by a conflict as well as by an identity of interests (670).” Conflict occurs because humans are self-interested. “Social cooperation makes possible a better life for all than any would have if each were to live solely by his own efforts,” but “persons are not indifferent as to how the greater benefits produced by their collaboration are distributed (670).” While society makes each individual member better off, they are constantly competing for the spoils of their cooperative efforts. Necessarily, “a set of principles is required for choosing among the various social arrangements which determine this division of advantages (670).” This set of principles, which decides how goods are to be distributed, represents the principles of justice for Rawls. Proper principles must proceed from a position of fairness and equality: “they are the principles that free and rational persons concerned to further their own interests would accept in an initial position of equality as defining the fundamental terms of their association (672).” Rawls terms this the original position, from which any reasonable person would derive the same principles of justice. Each member of society must enter the original position behind a “veil of ignorance,” meaning “no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does anyone know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength and the like (673).” In other words, anything that can produce inequality is unknown
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This note was uploaded on 05/25/2011 for the course ECON 1001 taught by Professor Donaldberry during the Spring '09 term at UCL.

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The Necessity of Liberty - The Necessity of Liberty In...

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