Hobbes and Rawls on Justice

Hobbes and Rawls are essentially both Social Contract theory advocates. Since Rawls came later than Hobbes, it is no surprise that his ideas are a bit similar with those of Hobbes and other social contract theorists. However, the similarities are few and the differences in their ideas as a whole are vast.

Hobbes writes in his Leviathan that before the establishment of the government or any ruling body, man was in a state of nature. Since no one’s ruling over everyone, the state of nature could essentially be a form of anarchy. In this state of nature, every individual has a natural right to do anything for his sake. For example, if someone wants an object belonging to another, there is nothing wrong if that person takes it; if a person wants to use someone’s body, he can do so without thinking of the harm he does to the person.

Thus, everything immoral we think of today is valid in that state of nature. There is no justice in such a state since justice only exists when there is some form of law that covers everyone and which everyone abides by. This is where Hobbes’ two laws of nature comes in. The first is that all individuals should seek peace because otherwise, the only alternative is war. The second is that everyone should give up certain rights to be able to attain that peace. And for this law to to work, everyone in society should agree to it.

Rawls, on the other hand, uses the term original position instead of the state of nature. In the original position, there is also no government, and the individuals are behind a veil of ignorance wherein they have no idea of themselves, their preferences and their position in society, unlike the people in Hobbes state of nature.

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Since Rawls also believes that each individual acts on self-interest, being behind such a veil while forming the social contract that will rule over them will help keep the contract from being beneficial for only the minority. After all, the social contract will affect all in every way and thus, the individuals will design it in a manner so as not to risk placing themselves in an unfortunate position. Rawls say that they would then base their design on the maximin rule, summarize as each individual would choose a state that is the least unfortunate of all for them.

A cake illustration simplifies things. Two individuals who want cake would agree that one cuts the cake once while the other chooses first. This will automatically guarantee that the cake will be cut evenly since the cutter wouldn’t want to end up with a smaller piece. To generalize, Rawls comes up with two basic principles of justice. First is that each person should have equal right to every liberty, like political liberty, freedom to hold property and speech, etc., as does everyone else, at the same time. The second is that inequalities, like wealth distribution and/or status, in society are okay only if it helps the least fortunate people in society and that each individual have equal opportunity to access it  (Jedicke).

To relate, natural justice dictates that man is inherently good, a man with good intent should not be harmed and that man should treat others as he wants to be treated. The positive laws, often in contrast with natural law, were then established to help guide society. Although the statement that man is inherently good contradicts Hobbes’ view of man in the natural state, the natural law made by the governing body is like the social contract that everyone agreed upon to abide by. Since everyone is abiding by it, they’ve agreed to sacrifice certain rights they had in the state of nature.

It cannot be helped, though, that some would still not give up and disobey the natural law, therefore committing a crime. If this was to be allowed to happen without due consequence, then everyone would stop abiding by the law and the world would revert back to the state of nature. Thus, punishing those who commit crime is only just for everyone who is keeping the law, since it is injustice when one does not keep it.

The present society under democracy is the nearest consequence of how the social contract should be under Rawls’ justice. In a democracy, everyone is given equal right and opportunity for every liberty, all at the same time. Everyone is given the right to have education, thus the presence of public schools, because this will entail, in the end, that people would have equal opportunities for jobs. Unfortunately, it certainly isn’t happening completely and probably won’t happen completely. After all, the established laws were made by individuals who weren’t influenced by the veil of ignorance. Thus, as they made the present laws, even given that they made it to represent the will of the people, there would still be an injustice in that there would always be the probability that the law made were for the good of a few.

Presently, it is obvious that a fair amount of Hobbes’ philosophy, and of other people, on justice is present at the judicial proceedings and laws in many countries. Rawls’ may be on its way as many people, like politicians, are reading and being influenced by his work.

Works Cited

Kay, Charles D. “Justice as Fairness.” 1997. 22 September 2007 <http://webs.wofford.edu/kaycd/ethics/justice.htm>

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