Rawls’s Justification Model for Ethics: What Exactly Does It Justify?

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Rawls is famous for two things: his attempt to ground morality in rationality and his conception of justice as fairness. His work has been resounding on both fronts, the first constituting the justificatory framework for the second. Yet from the beginning, the outcome has been more doctrinaire than the method should have allowed with design details promising objectivity. This article goes to that beginning, or to a reasonable proxy for it, in the “Outline of a Decision Procedure for Ethics,” with the aim of exposing and examining the discrepancy where it originates. The goal is not to prey on the earliest version of an initiative later undergoing revision but to identify and investigate the inception of a systematic bias that is retained rather than revised in subsequent iterations. The primary finding is that justice as fairness is too dogmatic an outcome for the decision procedure proposed. The corresponding principles (of justice as fairness) are consistent with the proposed procedure only relative to a specific system already presumed valid. A secondary finding, supported by the same considerations as the first, is that the decision procedure itself, regardless of whether it works well with the particular principles in question, may not be as useful as it appears, turning out to justify only, or mostly, what is widely accepted anyway.
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