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Discussion in 'M3Munki's Website Forum' started by WhiteChocolateWorld, Apr 24, 2006.
Boris Has A Cold
Ha ha ha ha
Abstract terms such as 'morality', 'good will', 'justice'...etc are often debated in academic circles. Different people throughout history have had different views on what is moral, what is good, what is just and just about anything else related. In the case of Immanuel Kant and John Rawls, their views were quite similar. John Rawls uses a Kantian understanding of autonomy and morality to develop his own theories of justice.
The focal point of Kant's theory of moral law is found in what is known as the categorical imperative. Kant sums up morality through this imperative, in which the imperative is an action that must be taken. He defines his moral law around the notion that one must, �I should never act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law.�1 Another important point is that Kant defines a �good will� through the use of reason, one in which the good will is unconditionally good and can be deduced logically. The actions of the good will lead into Kant's concept of duty, which combined with the moral law will be important defining measures of autonomy. For any action to have moral worth, it must be done out of duty, rather than being done for pleasure. �The moral worth depends, therefore, not on the realization of the object of the action, but merely on the principle of volition according to which, without regard to any objects of the faculty of desire, the action has been done.�2 This all leads into the bigger picture Kant is drawing, which is the idea of autonomy. For Kant, if people are to be free, which is to be autonomous, they all have to accept the moral law and therefore enter his system of universalized maxims and actions.
Rawls has a similar view on autonomy and freedom. Much like Kant, his theory depends on a social contract between all members of society. His main focus is around equality, in which he proposes a theory of justice as fairness. This theory is committed to two basic principals; the principal of equal basic rights and the difference principal. The difference principal states that social and economic differences are �justifiable only if the difference in expectation is to the advantage of the representative man who is worse off,�3. This principal then compensates for the differences found in talent from person to person, which are a result of sheer luck. This theory of justice draws parallels to Kant's writings. In a similar manner that Kant gives an individual autonomy through their moral actions and universalization of maxims, Rawls is able to give autonomy through his system of equality, in which certain people will not be overly advantaged over others.
To better explain this, Rawls takes us into to something he calls the �original position.� The original position is a starting point where everyone is a self-interested rational person. Already, there are clear similarities to Kant, as both place importance on the person's ability to reason and think in a rational manner. While in the original position, everyone is under a veil of ignorance. In this state, the person is not aware of any real defining characteristics. �no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does anyone know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance.�4 Combined with the original position, Rawls creates an image of a rational, autonomous person whose thinking and original views are equal to everyone else's. That is to say, that every person under the veil of ignorance is thinking the exact same way, because all are rational self-interested beings. To relate this to Kant we'll need to go back to his conception of the good will. As mentioned before, Kant defines the good will through the use of reason which lead to his concept of duty. Rawls similarly assumes that people are rational beings. As a result people will be self-motivated and interested, and in theory should be able to choose an outcome that will be most beneficial to them.
With this there is an emergence of something that resembles simple game theory. That is, everyone understands that they are in the same position, so in order to maximize their own good, they must all abide by the difference principal and equality principal. Because they are under the veil of ignorance this is their safest choice, since they do not know what talents they have, gender they are, race...etc. This is a direct modification of Kant's theory of the moral law, where everyone finds themselves in a similar situation, and the best scenario for all is to only act in a manner by which their maxim can be universalized. Both autonomous persons have the ability to choose their own path; the difference comes from how each writer has set out the path. Kant's goal is to create a �kingdom of ends�. For this to happen, a person must use reason to realize that they will be best off if they act according to the categorical imperative and are able to universalize their actions into laws. Rawls' person however uses reason in a different way. With the combination of the original point and veil of ignorance, every member of society finds themselves in the exact same situation. Aware of this, the autonomous individual will use reason to realize that the best guaranteed outcome will come if they act according to Rawls' two principals of justice. If a person is in such a situation, they will not privilege anyone one class, race, gender, age...etc, instead they will abide by this system of justice that gives everyone equality and through the difference principal maximize the chances of the least well off.
In contrast to these points where Rawls borrows and expands upon Kant, Kant's theory of duty and moral worth would most likely be rejected by Rawls. To Kant, moral worth can only be achieved if an action is done because it is the good thing to do, rather than because there is some benefit to doing it. The result of the action is of no importance to Kant, the reasoning behind the action is what determines whether or not it is moral. Rawls' view on this subject is a bit different, and it can be said that Rawls would disagree with Kant. Rawls is not concerned with the reason for the action, he believes that any action which has resulted in good is of moral worth.
The end result for Rawls is a liberal political community, while the end result for Kant is something he calls the �kindom of ends�. The two are in a sense similar to each other, as mentioned before both depend on a social contract and in a way stress libertarian values of equality. For Rawls, this is much more clear, as he explicitly states that equality is one of the founding principals of his theory of justice. In a similar way, Kant promotes the values of equality through the categorical imperative and through his system of ends. Kant writes that people should not regard one another as a means, instead they should be looked at as an end in themselves. With this he creates a system of equality in the society, much like Rawls does in his theory of justice.
The influence of Kant on Rawls is very clear when one looks into their ideas of equality, morality and the social contract. Rawls theory of justice has its roots deep in Kant's moral laws and a direct relation to his conception of the categorical imperative. By applying reason and self-interest into his views of autonomy, Rawls theory of justice becomes a rather Kantian outlook on society.