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Justice and the duties of social equality

By Carina Fourie


The aim of this thesis is to demonstrate that John Rawls’s conception of social justice should be revised to include duties that will require individuals to uphold social equality. Social equality, as I describe it, is characterised by the values of, at a minimum, respect-for-persons, civility and toleration. Informal social equality occurs when these values are upheld outside of a legal or official institutional context, such as through personal choice and within civil society. \ud \ud Rawls’s conception of justice, which focuses primarily on institutional justice, does not include fair personal choice as a requirement of justice. As choice, I will argue, affects the distribution of primary social goods such as the social basis of self-respect, if we want to describe a fair society, we should include a description of fair choice. If informal social equality is upheld, justice in choice will also be upheld. To correct the neglect of justice in choice, we can thus describe a fair society as one where (1) institutions would be fair and (2) individuals would fulfil duties of social equality.\ud \ud In the context of current debate on the role of individual behaviour in social justice, my thesis can be distinguished from what I refer to as the original ‘personal choice argument’. According to this argument, advocated by G. A. Cohen and Liam B. Murphy, for example, Rawls’s principles of justice for institutions should be applied to individuals so that fair personal choice becomes a requirement of distributive justice. Cohen and Murphy’s arguments are unconvincing, however, because (i) we could apply principles other than the institutional, for example, principles for individuals, to choice and (ii) we have good reason not to apply the institutional principles to choice, for example, because they do not properly address interferences with self-respect. \ud \ud Instead of applying the institutional principles of justice to individuals, I argue that Rawls’s principles for individuals should be revised according to the values of social equality: \ud 1. the duty of mutual respect needs to be revised to include requirements for individuals and associations to comply with the demands of social equality, which are (i) respect-for-persons, (ii) civility and (iii) toleration; and\ud 2. the duty of justice should be adapted to specify that individuals are required to help establish and to uphold informal (not merely formal) justice, thus to uphold justice in personal choice.Political Philosoph

Topics: PHI
Year: 2007
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Provided by: SAS-SPACE

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