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Evaluation of John Rawls Theory of Justice


It is known that in the world which is based on the economic and political influences, on commerce and cultural differences, high incomes and social disparity between different countries and cities, social justice seems to be so remote and unachievable, that it is difficult to imagine and apply a well-organized system of political and personal liberties. However, John Rawls states that social justice is achievable. It is known that the famous Theory of Justice developed by John Rawls, an American philosopher, is considered to be one of the most important twentieth-century works of political philosophy and ethics. The Theory of Justice offers “a compelling alternative to the dominating utilitarian conception of social justice”. (Ponce, 1999, para.3)

According to his Theory of Justice, any society where social justice is supported and applied should consist only of free and equal people. All citizens should not only possess political and personal liberties, but also they should enjoy equal opportunities in all spheres of human activity and cooperative arrangements that will provide benefit to all members of society. Thus, according to John Rawls’ theory, all individuals who are the members of society should have equal rights and opportunities. Moreover, their society should be considered as a fair system where all members cooperate with each other in order to make life better. This system should be transferred from one generation to the next. (Ponce, 1999, para.2)

My goal in this paper is to discuss the theory of Justice developed by the famous American philosopher John Rawls and to apply this theory to Hong Kong by means of thorough analysis of the social and economic systems of Hong Kong and assessment of existing social welfare system in Hong Kong.


It is known that the Theory of Justice was developed by John Rawls in 1999. He discussed the main principles of his theory in the book A Theory of Justice. John Rawls tried to solve the problem of distributive justice.

The main objectives of the Theory of Justice developed by John Rawls

It is known that in the Theory of Justice, John Rawls calls for a principled regulation of both liberty and equality in human society. In this case, the outstanding American philosopher John Rawls takes into consideration the circumstances of justice inspired by the Scottish philosopher David Hume and a fair choice situation that is closely connected with the ideas of the famous German philosopher of 18-th century Immanuel Kant. The major principles of justice are considered to be the basis of the Theory of Justice. The main objectives of John Rawls are concluded in the fact that he wants to offer a special model of a fair choice situation which can help to choose acceptable principles of justice. Moreover, John Rawls believes that the individuals can find those principles of justice that will be especially attractive for them.

The main principles of John Rawls’ Theory of Justice

The Theory of Justice developed by Rawls is based on the fact that “Justice is the first virtue of social institution”. (Rawls 13) It means that a really good society is the one which is built according to the principals of justice. John Rawls states that there are many other theories of justice which have already been developed in the field of philosophy, but none of them is adequate. He writes in his book The Theory of Justice, “My guiding aim is to work out a theory of justice that is a viable alternative to these doctrines which have long dominated our philosophical tradition.” (Rawls 5) That is why he calls his justice theory which has the major goal – to formulate a clear conception of the fundamental structure of society according to two social justice principles, justice theory as fairness.

Moreover, John Rawls states that his essential principles of justice which should be used for creating a good society are very important because they “provide a way of assigning rights and duties in the basic institutions of society” and help to organize this society in a proper way. (Rawls 25)

The first principle of John Rawls’ Theory of Justice is the liberty principle. It states that “each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive scheme of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for others.” (Rawls 43) It means that there are different types of liberty and that some of them are more suitable for a just society including freedom of thought, liberty of conscience, freedom of person and the civil liberties. Besides, the first principle of the theory of justice should not be violated. Rawls argues that different liberties may conflict with each other; that’s why it is very important to trade them off against each in order to obtain the largest and effective system of rights.

The second principle of John Rawls’ Theory of Justice is called the difference principle. It defines how economic resources should be distributed in a good society. This principle consists of two parts. The first part discusses the distribution of acquired or purchased wealth in the society. It refers to regulation of taxation and redistribution of wealth in the state. The second part of this principle is the so-called principle of equal opportunity. It regulates access to those social positions that are considered to be prestigious in the society, including good jobs and positions of authority. Rawls states that the second principle of the Theory of Justice “applies, in the first approximation, to the distribution of income and wealth and to the design of organizations that make use of differences in authority and responsibility, or chains of command”. (Rawls 62) The second part of the principle is based on anti-discrimination.

Some experts call the difference principle as the principle of positive liberty because it is based in the fact that negative liberty is insufficient.



Ponce, P. (1999) The Philosophy of Justice: John Rawls. Humanities. Vol.20. Issue 6. Retrieved from:
< http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5037667347>
McLaughlin, E. (1993). Hong Kong: A residual welfare regime. London: Sage Publications. Open University Press.
Rawls, J. (1975) A Theory of Justice. Original edition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.