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A Theory of Justice | Glossary


Aristotelian principle: The Aristotelian principle holds that humans enjoy the use of their skills and abilities, and this enjoyment increases with increasing skill or increasingly complex tasks.

deliberative rationality: Deliberative rationality is the weighing of alternatives against one another in light of full knowledge of all relevant circumstances to arrive at the best, most rational choice. It is an ideal process since full knowledge is impossible.

difference principle: The difference principle allows for the inequalities within a society to be judged as just or unjust and is part of the two principles of Rawls's justice as fairness. It holds that an inequality is just, and therefore permissible, only when it results in a greater advantage for all, particularly for those who are most disadvantaged.

distributive justice: Distributive justice is concerned with the justice of the distribution of advantages and burdens within a society. This distribution is the result of the way society is structured.

institutions: Institutions are public systems of rules. Their arrangement is the fundamental structure of society; designing a just framework for institutions is Rawls's primary concern.

justice: According to Rawls, justice is "the first virtue of social institutions" and is defined by the principles that would be chosen by individuals in the original position.

Kantian interpretation: The Kantian interpretation of justice as fairness involves viewing the situation of the original position in terms of 18th-century Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant's concepts of autonomy and the categorical imperative.

original position: The original position is the meeting of individuals under the veil of ignorance to choose the principles that will structure a just society.

plan of life: A plan of life is a system of desires and aims people seek to realize. The liberty to choose and carry out a rational plan of life is fundamental to Rawls's concept of personhood.

primary social goods: Primary social goods are those things all people want, regardless of their aims in life. They include liberty, opportunity, wealth, income, and self-respect.

principle of choice under uncertainty: The principle of choice under uncertainty, or the maximin principle, directs risk-averse persons to choose the best of the worst possible outcomes.

principle of fair opportunity: The principle of fair opportunity, in conjunction with the difference principle, gives rise to the social structure of democratic equality favored by Rawls. It is the first half of the second principle of justice and constrains economic inequalities with the mandate that society must compensate for them by ensuring persons have the same actual access to education, careers, and positions, regardless of economic status.

priority problem: The priority problem is the lack of a clear procedure for determining the relative weight, or priority, that two or more principles should be given with respect to one another.

pure procedural justice: Pure procedural justice exists when a just procedure has no independently defined criteria for a just or correct outcome. Justice is attained merely by following the just procedure correctly. The original position is designed so the choice of the two principles of justice is a matter of pure procedural justice.

reflective equilibrium: Reflective equilibrium is the meeting point of principles and judgments; to arrive here, one's judgments are examined to see if they fit within the principles, adjusted if necessary, and then re-checked. When reflective equilibrium is reached, one's specific ideas about the world better converge with the principles they hold.

social justice: Principles of social justice are necessary to mitigate inequalities in society through the regulation of the distribution of primary social goods.

teleological theory: Teleological theories such as utilitarianism define the right in terms of the maximization of the good while the good is defined by independent criteria.

theory of the good: The good is defined as that which satisfies a person's rational desire.

veil of ignorance: The veil of ignorance removes all knowledge of personal particular interests and positions from the persons in the original position. Its function is to prevent bias and allow a unanimous decision for the choice of principles to govern society.

well-ordered society: A well-ordered society has just institutions and features a public conception of justice, which all try to uphold; it is a "social union of social unions."

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