A socio-political theory of justice, courtesy of American philosopher, John Rawls.

Assume all the members of a society go into a large debate hall to hash out the rules under which society will operate. Should there be a strong central government? A monarch? A democracy? Do people have the right to protest? To congregate freely? To piss on the streets?

For weeks, months, years, the people discuss and debate and finally decide on a set of rules for the society. Now comes the tricky part. Each person reaches into a glass bowl and pulls out a slip of paper, telling them which role in the newly created society they must play.

If people knew in advance that their final position in society were going ot be random, what sort of society would they choose to build? Rawls puts forth a "Solomon-the-wise-dividing-the-flock-of-sheep" sort of government. The lowest rank in the society would not be made so terrible simply because someone would have to occupy that position.

In a correlary to this construction, Rawls argues that the just decision in every case in a society is to always act so as to most benefit the lowest member of society. In this way the lowest rung of the ladder rises and the whole ladder rises as one.

The type of justice concerned with the distribution of benefits and burdens to different individuals and groups in a society.

This is the primary concern of so many modern philosophers who go on and on about the social contract or the greatest economic system ever.

One of the most widely-read theories of distributive justice is John Rawls' A Theory of Justice. It begins, "justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought."

cf. retributive justice

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