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John Rawls and his theory of justice

Discuss about Political Thoughts.

Overlapping consensus was an idea that was theorized by John Rawls in the book “A theory of Justice”. The political term refers to the fact that though justice system and concept is different in various regions and countries, there are some principles of justice that all these different regions agree upon (Saward, 2018). Social norms, religious principles, political ideology and other similar doctrines may fall in this overlapping consensus theory, where the overall concept may be varying in different groups, there are some principles on which all these groups agree upon. John Bordley Rawls, who was the proponent of this concept, was a political thinker in United States of America. He was an advocate of democracy and liberal ideas. He was an important contributor at Harvard University, and University of Oxford. His book “A Theory of Justice” in 1971 has redefined the normative philosophy on politics. Normative philosophy in politics describe those philosophies that distinguishes between right and wrong and moral and immoral activities.

The book by John Rawls “A theory of Justice” attempts to explain justice in its various forms, especially distributive justice, in which justice will be distributed equally among all the sections of the society, even those who are in the brinks of social order (Buchanan, 2017).

The idea of overlapping consensus lies in the fact that there are some basic similarities of the concept of morality, or goodness in all the societies. Therefore, it must be understood that though the social groups in various regions of the world may be different according to overall social customs and norms, but they would have some principles on which they agree upon. Example of such overlapping consensus in terms of justice can be given by the example that murder is considered a severe crime in all countries and cultures of the world, and most of the countries reward capital punishment who commit a crime like murder. Therefore, even if a country is secular, or is dominated by particular religion, death penalty is a crime in most of the countries worldwide. In case of religion one example of such overlapping consensus can be given as follows. Though there are different customs, rituals and practices in various religions, the overall principle of believing in the existence of a supreme creator God, and trying to connect to him in various ways, is same across all religions. In case of social overlapping consensus, it may be stated that though there are difference of social structures and norms in various parts of the world, the institution of marriage prevails in all cultures. However, in this particular regard the concept of overlapping consensus in the justice system is described and analyzed.

The idea of overlapping consensus

Ronald Myles Dworkin is an eminent jurist in the United States of America, and a thinker and scholar of the Constitutional law of the United States. He was also a philosopher and political thinker. He has substantial contribution to law and political philosophy of the country. Dworkin in his book “Law’s Empire” has stated the theory of law as integrity, which have been considered as one of the most impactful contemporary theories of the present times. He had advocated “moral reading” of the laws and interpretivist approach to the Constitution of the United States of America.


Dworkin has also worked extensively in describing what is equality and how equality can be executed in real time. He has also authored a book called the “Sovereign Virtue” where he has proposed the theory called the “equality of resources” (Waluchow & Sciaraffa, 2016). He advocated that the individual abilities, talents of the person must not impact the resource allocation in the society. Every person with whatever abilities he or she might be born must be enjoying equal rights and resources from the state. His theories are engraved with the principle that all the individuals are entitled to equal attention from the society and the social system must be designed in a way that the structure enables the individuals to enjoy equal rights. Rights according to Dworkin protect the fundamental values of the human beings from “collective political justification” (Dworkin, 2015).  Dworkin had extensively researched on the relationship between rights and utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is based on the idea that whatever actions increases utility of anything must be followed. Any action when done may be producing some pleasure and some pain, the “sum of all pleasure, minus the pain” is utility according to Jeremy Bentham who was the proponent of the theory of utilitarianism.

I believe that the theory put forward by Dworkins is better equipped for establishing human rights, in present day times. Dworkins theory has been suited for the environment of a liberal democracy on the grounds that it gives importance on equal distribution of resources and wealth, in spite of differences in abilities and understandings of the individuals in a society. Rawls on the other hand uses the overlapping consensus as the basis of rights, and overlapping consensus may or may not be present in a society, and there is no one decide or ensure that there is such consensus. However, in applying the Dwarkin’s theory there is no need of depending on social customs or practices, it has to be systematically applied by constitutional reforms and legal actions.

Ronald Dworkin and his theory of law as integrity

Both the theories of Rawl and Dwarkin are based on the principles of democracy and liberalism. Both of these theorists have argued favorably in establishing a society where individual rights are ascertained and there is no scope of state interference into life of the individuals in terms of their social activities.  The theorists are like minded in stating that individual liberty should be protected and social equality must be guaranteed. However, the system of execution of Dworkin’s theory is more effective.

Dworkin had developed a test known as the “envy-test”, which he believes is the criterion of just distribution of resources throughout the society. Simply this concept states that when a person envies other person because the second person has received or accumulated much more resources than the first person, then it is to be believed that the social distribution system is not just and well structured. A theoretical concept of initial auction was proposed in which all the members of a particular society or community will be offered the equal amount of money, and all the resources will be open for auction. the next thing that was needed to be done was to get free market competition begin and continue in the same way for a considerable amount of time. Though this system was not practically possible to be to be executed however the theory lets us understand that the rights of the people are equal and everyone should have similar access to resources. This is wonderful to see that the communist idea of equal distribution of wealth is matched with free market to give rise to theory that would ensure a equal and just society. Dworkin’s theory was better in a lot of ways then Rawl’s, it was as if the theory of Rawls was taken forward by Dworkin. The idea of Rolls in his book a theory of justice about overlapping consensus was quite practical but it was to be derived from Natural sources and not controlled by external human interference. for example the social norms or religious principles or political ideology that are same in various numbers of social structures are derived naturally and they evolve naturally they are not imposed or manmade.

As conclusion it must be said that both Rawls and Dwarkin were phenomenally successful in their Endeavour in researching about various means of establishing just and rightful Society. In the book of theory of justice the concept of justice as fairness is one of the very influential theories developed by Rawls, which suggests that the all the individuals or people in a society if given equal and neutral situation then they will all agree on equal distribution of the resources and wealth. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, or the philosopher Rousseau, all emphasized on this natural tendency of men to establish the natural justice system. However, Dwarkin in his book, “justice and hypothetical agreements” have not agreed that all men in such situation maybe agreeing to establish a society where all the wealth will be equally distributed. He has suggested today must be a system a process that will ensure that the equal distribution happens from the highest authority. Despite the fact that Rawls gives a legitimate contention to only dispersion of products, thinkers Ronald Dworkin and Thomas Nagel bring up fascinating issues contradicting his origination of distributive equity. Both Dworkin and Nagel have profound reservations about the first position, which Dworkin portrays as "oblivious of interests past a picked few".

References:

Buchanan, A. (2017). A critical introduction to Rawls’ theory of justice. In Distributive Justice (pp. 175-211). Routledge.

DAS, J. K. (2016). Human rights law and practice. PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd..

Dworkin, R. (2015). How law is like literature. In Law and Literature (pp. 45-62). Routledge.

Saward, M. (2018). Rawls and deliberative democracy. In Democracy as public deliberation (pp. 112-130). Routledge.

Waluchow, W., & Sciaraffa, S. (Eds.). (2016). The Legacy of Ronald Dworkin. Oxford University Press.

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