Justice as Fairness in a Broken World

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In Ethics for a Broken World : Imagining Philosophy after Catastrophe, Tim Mulgan applies a number of influential moral and political theories to a “broken world ”: a world of environmental catastrophe in which resources are insufficient to meet everyone’s basic needs. This paper shows that John Rawls’ conception of justice as fairness has very different implications for a broken world than Mulgan suggests it does. §1 briefly summarizes Rawls’ conception of justice, including how Rawls uses a hypothetical model – the “original position” – to argue for principles of justice. §2 explains how Mulgan uses a variation of Rawls’ original position – a broken original position – to argue that justice as fairness requires a “fair survival lottery” in a broken world. §3 shows that the parties to a broken original position have reasons not to agree to such a survival lottery. §4 then shows that Mulgan’s argument hangs upon a false assumption: that there are no viable options to adopt in a broken world besides some kind of survival lottery. Finally, §5 shows that the parties to a broken original position would instead rationally agree to a scheme of equal rights and opportunities to earn or forfeit shares of scarce resources on the basis of each person’s comparative contribution to human survival.
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