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PSIR 1A-3: Justice – Previous Year Questions & Answers

Model Answers to PYQs (2018-2023)

1] Rawls’ idea of the ‘liberal self’ is too individualistic. Explain, in this context, the communitarian critique of Rawls’ theory of justice. [2023/15m/200w/2b]

John Rawls’ theory of justice, as presented in his influential work “A Theory of Justice,” is often critiqued by communitarian theorists for its perceived excessive individualism.

Rawls’ theory is grounded in the concept of the “liberal self,” which is a rational, autonomous, and self-interested individual. Rawls begins his theory with the original position, a hypothetical state where individuals, behind a “veil of ignorance,” make rational choices about principles of justice. The focus is on individuals and their rational self-interest, intending to ensure fairness and equal opportunities.

Communitarian thinkers, such as Michael Sandel and Alasdair MacIntyre, argue that Rawls’ theory places too much emphasis on the individual self while downplaying the significance of communal values, shared traditions, and cultural contexts.

They contend that Rawls’ theory lacks a sufficiently rich and culturally grounded moral foundation. They argue that a just society should be rooted in the values and practices of its particular community rather than relying on abstract principles generated from a hypothetical scenario.

They also argue that Rawls’ focus on self-interest and rationality overlooks the moral development and ethical considerations that arise within a community.

Communitarians believe that cultural identity and identity claims, such as those of minority groups, are inadequately addressed in Rawls’ theory. They argue that a just society must recognize and accommodate diverse cultural and group identities.

Communitarians advocate for a more holistic and culturally grounded approach to justice that places a stronger emphasis on shared values, traditions, and the ethical life of communities, challenging the primacy of the rational, autonomous individual in Rawls’ theory. [257 words]

2] Dr. Ambedkar’s idea of social justice leads to ‘egalitarian justice’ as compared to Rawls’ ‘justice as fairness’ which aims at the notion of ‘pure procedural justice’. Comment. [2022/20m/250w/4a]

Ambedkar and Rawls are both known for their contributions in social and political philosophy. While Rawls is famous for his theory of justice as fairness, Dr. Ambedkar’s idea of social justice emphasizes the importance of ensuring equality for all members of society, particularly those who are marginalized or disadvantaged.

Pure procedural justice occurs when the standard for what would be fair is not known. All we can agree upon is the process and whatever result it might give us. The result is only acceptable because of the way it was obtained.

In his second principle regarding the distribution of goods other than the basic liberties, Rawls acknowledges that we cannot expect actual regimes to embody a substantive justice, in the sense that individuals are likely to receive what their own particular merit or moral desert entitles them to. Rawls’ focus is on procedural justice, meaning that he is primarily concerned with the fairness of the decision-making process itself.

Ambedkar, on the other hand, understands social inequality and diversity to be layered and multidimensional, and that the state had to reckon with several competing centres of religious, communal and cultural allegiances.

The laws, to Ambedkar, were to be such that it guaranteed the rights of the least advantaged. He envisioned social justice as a prerequisite for political justice. He introduced an alternative dimension to the concept of equality and revolution in attaining Justice, and thus, advocated “inequality” that benefited marginalized sections.

Rawls only talks about the economic position of the disadvantaged groups neglecting other variables. Ambedkar however insists on liberal-individualism for the just distribution of social goods. To Ambedkar, constitutionalism, legal methods, political empowerment is fundamental for the realization of social democracy. Until and unless people are socially and politically empowered, the vision for economic empowerment is merely a myth.

Ambedkar problematizes regard for equal consideration and lays stress on human agency as compared to Rawls’ emphasis on discrete liberties, though liberty remained for him as one of the archetypal values alongside equality and Fraternity

Though, both Ambedkar and Rawls differ in their approach, they are identical in their ends. Their collaborative ideas may provide a new avenue for the philosophical revolution in the subject matter. [365 words]

3] Examine the entitlement theory of justice. [2022/15m/200w/4c]

Robert Nozick’s entitlement theory of justice seeks to advance an alternative to Rawls’s theory of justice. The theory propounds that people are entitled to their property and that the state has no right to intervene.

Nozick identifies three principles on which this entitlement will conform to justice:

  1. Initial acquisition of previously unowned bits of  natural world is just, as long as it does not create scarcity for others.
  2. Inequality born out of voluntary transfer of one’s property is not unjust.
  3. Rectification: The state is justified in intervening in only one scenario—when a person’s right deprives others of their legitimate share.

Thus, Nozick favours a minimal state. Although he concedes that the history of the world abounds with unjust acquisitions of natural resources, he does not favour stretching them in the present. Like Hayek, he believes that so-called social justice programmes only result in corruption.

The entitlement theory is criticised for its bias towards the rich and resourceful. Nozick absolved the rich of all social responsibility, not to speak of social indebtedness. According to him, progressive taxation is akin to ‘bonded labour.’ Besides, his principle of rectification seeks to legitimize USA’s actions in the oil-producing Middle East. [200 words]

4] How has Rawls enriched the idea of justice in liberalism? [2021/20m/250w/2a]

John Rawls gave a broader dimension of justice and tried to reconcile various ideologies and also gave a pragmatic solution as to how the principle of justice can be applied actually in a given society.

Rawls subtly rejected the central hypothesis of the Utilitarian school with the Benthamite formula of “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”. Rawls went centuries back and rekindled the school of social contractualists, as it had the liberal egalitarian moral element of Kantian theory.

One of the key contributions of Rawls to the idea of justice in liberalism is his development of the of ‘Original Position’ i.e. the Pre Contract period or pre state scenario, where individuals lived in a state of ‘veil of ignorance’ which implies that they were unaware of their wants, interests, abilities and skills. Thus, they are ignorant about the future state of affairs and would hence choose a path of justice that would be of greatest benefit to the least advantaged one. This was a hypothetic idea propounded by Rawls and not an actual model. Through this, he established the rationale for concept of justice.

Rawls gave his famous principles to be followed in order of their lexical priority. These principles can be enumerated as: 1: Equal Basic Liberties 2: a) Fair equality of opportunity 2: b) Difference Principle

Rawls maintained that justice entails fair amount of distribution of social primary goods to all the members of society. These social primary goods include rights and liberties, power and opportunity, income and wealth and the means to self-respect and so on.

Rawls theory of justice as fairness, with its emphasis on equality, original position, and public reason, has enriched our understanding of what a just society might look like, and continues to influence contemporary debates about justice and political philosophy. [299 words]

5] Make a comparative assessment of Greek perspective of Justice with the Rawlsian concept of Justice. [2020/20m/250w/2a]

One of the earliest accounts of justice is found in Plato’s Republic. For Plato, justice was one of the four principles of virtue, the other three being temperance, wisdom and courage. An ideal state would be the embodiment of justice, where every individual would be true to his nature, some men being philosophical and intellectual, and others good workers or artisans and so on. In a just state each state each individual would fulfil his duty diligently.

For Aristotle, justice lies in incorporating concerns of equality, proportionality and maintenance of equilibrium in society. We can see that there was a notion of hierarchy in Greek idea of justice. Either divinity and God were invoked or the ideal of natural justice or else traditions and conventions, determined the ideas on justice.

Rawls, on the other hand insists that justice prevails only when every departure from equality can be rationally justified. Rawls’s theory of justice is premised upon the need for equality.

The conception of justice in Plato’s Republic is an abstract concept. For Rawls, in contrast, the realities of society and the economic and social conditions of current societies are more important. Rawls’ view on justice is less psychological than Plato’s. In his two books, “A Theory of Justice” and “Justice as Fairness”, Rawls investigates the nature of justice with regard to the economic and social realities of societies.

But when Rawls states on the opening page of his Theory of Justice that “justice is the first virtue of social institutions” and that it is the “most important virtue of institutions,” the key elements of the classical legacy are continued. Similar to Aristotle’s view “that people do act with a view to obtain what they think is good for them” Rawls also emphasizes that in pursuing their ends, people “each prefer a larger to a lesser share.” Furthermore, the “basic structure of society” is seen as the “primary subject of justice.”

Hence, we can say that with the evolution of the society, the very idea of Justice has also naturally evolved but it still borrows from the early ideas. Justice is supposed to be a moral virtue — analogous to the views of Plato and Aristotle, Rawls also emphasizes the requirement of a “public conception of justice.” [375 words]

6] Examine communitarian perspectives on justice. [2019/15m/200w/2b]

Justice is the first virtue of social institutions and is a moral virtue establishing well-ordered society which is responsible to protect human liberty. 

Communitarians inspired by Charles Taylor and Hannah Arendt argue that individuals are always embedded in a network of social relationships, and the liberal conception of individual as atomistic, was criticised by communitarians.

Michael Sandel in “liberalism and limits of justice’’, while defining justice, says that the idea of good should precede rights. Unlike Rawls who called rights prior to good and good within boundary of Rights. For Sandel, state need not be neutral but should promote the conception of good which is beneficial to society. He calls justice not as art of integration, but art of differentiation. Sandel call Rawls as highly individualistic and biased for describing Concept of absolute justice based on value system of Western world.

Michael Walzer in “Spheres of justice” recognises politics of differences and that neglecting it will lead to homogenous society which is detrimental to the concept of justice. He gives the concept of complex equality. “Different goods ought to be distributed in different -way”, in criticism of simple equality adopted by Rawls which says one size fit for all.

Rawls in second book ‘Political liberalism’ responds to communitarian critics, by accommodating the problem of cultural heterogeneity within liberal States. Hence the conception of justice by communitarians is  significant and in alignment with globalized times where multicultural societies are gaining ground. [240 words]

7] Comment on distributive justice. [2018/10m/150w/1c]

Distributive justice is a concept that seeks to specify what is meant by a just distribution of resources, benefits and opportunities among members of society, and that individuals receive their due share based on the principles of fairness and equality.

David Miller defines the problem of social justice as that of determining ‘the principles which should be chosen to govern the distribution of wealth, prestige and other benefits among the members of society.

He has identified three criteria which are usually invoked to determine the principles of distributive justice i.e. protection of acknowledged rights (hierarchical order), distribution according to desert (vouching for market system), and distribution according to need (solidarity community).

The most widely discussed theory of distributive justice has been that proposed by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice, and Political Liberalism. Rawls proposes the following two principles of justice:

1. Each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme for all; and in this scheme the equal political liberties, and only those liberties, are to be guaranteed their fair value.

2. Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: (a) They are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and (b), they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society.

Principles of distributive justice are best thought of as providing moral guidance for the political processes and structures that affect the distribution of benefits and burdens in societies, and any principles which do offer this kind of moral guidance on distribution, regardless of the terminology they employ, should be considered principles of distributive justice. [290 words]

8] Analyse John Rawls’ justification of discrimination to achieve the goals of justice. [2018/15m/200w/2b]

John Rawls has suggested three principles in his theory of justice i.e. maximum equal liberty, equality of opportunity and difference principle. The third principle, difference principle advocates discrimination to achieve the goal of justice.

Rawls suggests that equality needs to democratized. Natural distribution is neither just nor unjust, those are just facts. It is we, who deal with them decides justice. And unless there is justice in society, there cannot be legitimacy and peace.

Rawls believe that difference principle is natural outcome of thought experiment. It is a result of reason. It is an option whose worst outcome is better than worst outcome of any other option. Further, anyone may need social security net at any time. Thus, everyone will accept the difference principle. Rawls is critical of both classical liberal approach as well as communism.

Classical liberal approach will not be in sync with our moral intuitions. And communism is like sharing equal poverty, which will lead to everyone’s worst off.

However Rawls has been criticized across ideological spectrum for his views. Libertarians like Nozick criticize positive discrimination as bonded labour. Amartya Sen suggests that realization focused approach is better than Rawls theory. And socialists criticize that equality proposed by Rawls is not sufficient.

Despite criticism, Rawls theory is guiding principle for most of the contemporary governments, who have adopted the approach of welfare state. [226 words]

The post contains answers to the last 6-year papers i.e. (2023-2018). Answers to the previous year questions from 2013-2017 are a part of our book PSIR Optional Model Answers to PYQs (2013-2022)

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