John Rawls' A Theory of Justice
John Rawls' "A Theory of Justice" has long been revered as a marvel of modern political philosophy. It's most well-known for the two principles of justice outlined by Rawls: (1) that all persons have an equal right to liberty; and (2) that (a) all inequalities in society should be arranged to benefit the least advantages, and (b) that all positions and offices should be open and accessible as outlined by fair equality of opportunity. Rawls' conception of society, as a "co-operative venture for mutual gain", forms the basis for both principles, and he is at all times concerned with creating a stable concept of fair and just society. Rawls' second principle, dealing with distributive justice and equality of opportunity, outlines a theoretical procedure whereby the maximum social primary goods (i.e. wealth, health, respect, happiness) can be distributed o those with the minimum advantages ("maximin").
Rawls introduces this concept by establishing a social contract between people behind a "veil of ignorance". This veil would remove the identity and characteristics from an individual (age, sex, social status, race, religion, etc.) so that he or she would be forced to support a Basic Social Structure (where controls are set on the activities of individuals to maximize total primary goods and liberties) that is fair, just and equal. Rawls reasons that all inequalities that do not arise from such social circumstances are just, and therefore searches for a way to make social inequalities fair. In accordance with his policy of "justice as fairness", Rawls creates, and later defends, what is known as the "difference principle" (principle of justice #2). This principle stipulates that those who are advantaged by social and natural circumstances should redistribute their primary social goods to the least advantages. This principle seems fair, as all social endowments are arbitrary and should not affect one's fate. Rawls' "difference principle" also seems reasonable because it removes unjust social advantages without actually altering the advantaged's endowments (which would be almost impossible, as seen in Vonnegut.)
While Rawls' amended principle does seem progressive, there are a few flaws and objections, as noted by such contemporaries as Kymlicka....