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Six Theories of Justice

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Philosophical Views of Justice
We hold these truths to be self–evident,
That all men are created equal,
That they are endowed by their Creator
With certain unalienable Rights,
That among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,
Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

In today’s society, people have choices. They have the choice to believe in whomsoever they wish and live their lives according to their own morals and values. People, as stated in the above excerpt of the Declaration of Independence, have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There are three main philosophical views on justice that drive our lives; they are Utilitarianism, Social Contract Theory and Entitlement Theory. These theories have some similar aspects as well as differences which set them apart. Each person must choose the view that best fits them and live their lives accordingly.
The theory of Utilitarianism was brought forth from the minds of Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick and G.E. Moore. Although it is one of the older theories, its attributes are still seen today in market economies and “cost-benefit analysis”. It is a simple theory which relies on few principles; the great happiness principle states that actions are just as long as they promote happiness, not only in ourselves but in others as well. This presents two principles for consideration: first, that the purpose in life is to be happy; and secondly, that the “rightness” of an act depends on the amount of happiness it creates. There are two groups within the believers of Utilitarianism: the Act-Utilitarianism believers and the Rule-Utilitarianism believers. The Act-Utilitarianism believers follow in Bentham’s idea that every action must be calculated to determine if it is right or wrong. That is, the pros and con’s must be weighed for all people who will be affected by the action and then it can be decided whether or not the action would be right or wrong. The Rule-Utilitarianism believers follow Mills’ version of the theory in that history teaches us the tendency of the outcome of an event, meaning that each event does not necessarily need to be calculated if it has already occurred in history and has produced a good, or bad, outcome. Social Contract Theory can be described as a group of blind men and women, ignorant of their positions in life, choosing and setting rules for the running of their world and society. The only knowledge the group has is that: firstly, their society will react to justice and injustice as it arises and secondly, the group must have enough knowledge about people in general that they could set rules that can be followed without unnecessary stress or pain. John Rawls, the man who created this theory, argued that the group would pick three main principles to rule their society: everyone will have equal basic rights; and social and economic inequalities are only right if they result in benefits for everyone, especially those who are less fortunate; and that the people who are currently in authoritative positions are not going to remain in them forever, these positions are open to all who wish to accept them.
The Entitlement theory, from the mind of Robert Nozick, is based on having a minimally intrusive state, or government, and letting everyone, all with individual rights and freedoms, rule their own lives, the only rules are that: no one person can violate the rights of another or cause them harm. Nozick’s theory would have a non-obtrusive government because he believes that no one idea is perfect for everyone, he believes that each person should be able to create and live in their own utopia. He believes that “Whatever arises from a just situation by just steps is just”, that is, if a person chooses to give all their savings (rightfully earned by them) to a stranger, the stranger is entitled to do as they wish with the money. This is called “justice in holdings”. The entitlement theory can be summed up as a minimal state with the sole right and job to ensure protection of its people’s rights (right to not be injured by others, the right to freedom of thought, choice and action and the right to own property) and supply compensation if these rights were to be taken.
In looking at these three theories, it is clear that there are some similarities along with some differences. Both Utilitarianism and Social Contract theory show similar strengths in that, using Utilitarianism as a basis for the Social Contract theory, the happiness of the individual, as well as the group is important. Entitlement theory is similar to Social contract theory in that the rights of the individual are very important. The differences between the three theories are mostly based on the role of government and the role of the individual within a group.
In my personal opinion, all three theories leave something to be desired and yet all three have potential. Utilitarianism is functional in that, by sacrificing one for the good of many, lives can be saved and many things accomplished, but this must be done in a just way and not only on the whim of the majority, the sacrificing of one person must be seriously thought of. Social Contract theory has its merits in the principles that Rawls believes his group will produce the rights that are to govern the society. Entitlement theory is good in the sense that people are fully free to do what-so-ever please them, as long as their actions do not harm others.
There are however, aspects of each theory that are worrisome. Concerning Utilitarianism, the sacrificing of the happiness of one for the good of many could be taken as something to be used every day and in every situation. This could cause problems if the majority for whom the minorities are being sacrificed are corrupt and are using their “rights” to cause harm. As for Social Contract, the complete and total ignorance of the group that is to decided the laws and principals would be extremely hard, if not impossible, to achieve. Everyone is shaped by their experiences and own ideas, no one can be completely ignorant to their own desires and personal aims. Entitlement theory poses an issue in that the complete and total freedom of people to do as they wish could cause chaos when people disagree.
When deciding which theory is best fitting for one’s life, it is important to keep in mind that although we may rule our lives, or so we believe, the theory we choose to live by not only effects our own lives, but the lives of those around us. A person, when thinking of their own wants and needs is more often than not ignoring the voice in the back of their minds telling them what they are doing is immoral and wrong. Most people do not think of the happiness of others before their own, most people do not think of what would be better for their society as a whole and not as an individual, most people, think of only what they believe is rightfully theirs. This is why; most people choose to turn to the great thinkers of the past for direction.

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