A Just Society's Concept as Per Rawls and Young's Argument

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I think a society based on Rawls would be more just than one based on Young’s theory, mostly because I don’t like anything Young has presented. I’ll first go over arguments presented by Rawls, then Young, about what makes a society just. Second will be my reason for choosing Rawls over Young, why I became skeptical about Young in the first place and why I think her ideas create a patterned oppression, why I think a universalistic approach to this topic is better than a relativistic approach, and why politicizing everything would lead to a society never getting anything accomplished.

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Rawls basis his theory on a hypothetical scenario. In this he says if everyone were put in the original position behind a veil of ignorance they would agree with the principles of justice he himself came up with. Rawls says that everyone behind the veil is rational, which means self-interested. They would want to get the most bang out of their buck, if you will. He comes up with two principles: “First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others. Second: social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all.” (Rawls, 60) His view is universal; there is no deviation or change needed.

Young’s basis is oppression, in that oppression is the greatest injustice, and we must mitigate it. She identifies five forms of oppression: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. Exploitation is putting more into a task than you get for doing the task. On marginalization: “Marginals are people the system of labor cannot or will not use.” (Young, 54) Young says powerlessness is a lack of a voice, be it in work or in government; when you don’t have a say you are powerless. Cultural imperialism is the destruction of one’s cultural traditions by the majority. Groups that suffer oppression in the form of violence, “… live with the knowledge that they must fear random, unprovoked attacks on their persons or property, which have no motive but to damage, humiliate, or destroy the person.” (Young, 61) She also focuses on groups rather than the individual, that you cannot have a just society without recognition of different social groups, and the politicization of everything.

I chose Rawls in part because I find Young’s theory to be too sensitive. I feel that in a society set up by Young I would say some off-hand comment and someone would start yelling that I’m oppressing them. The modern idea of social justice, as far as I can tell, has devolved into people getting upset over trivial things, such as their professor not asking what pronouns they want to be called by. The other, more grounded in philosophy, reason is I find that Rawls manages to respond to the same problems in a much simpler manner, and Occam’s razor says the simplest solution is usually correct. I also find the deontological approach to be more to my liking.

The first problem I had with Young came when she used the Hebrews in Egypt as an example of oppression. She claims to base her theory on history, but doesn’t bother to check the historicity of this claim. There is neither historical evidence to show that the Hebrew were oppressed by Egyptians nor evidence putting the group in Egypt during the times the Bible claims them to be there. Not only that, but Egyptians treated their workers decently. After reading this I became skeptical about everything else she wrote. If she’s too lazy to check a claim why should I consider anything else she writes as trustworthy?

Young’s system creates a circular model of oppression; the oppressed gain rights then oppress their oppressors. It’s not a difficult thing to see in our society. In the example that follows it is not necessarily the formerly oppressed doing the oppression, rather it is society as a whole oppressing the oppressors, with zero basis for the oppression. Anecdotal evidence from my own life is a great example. When it came time to go to university someone in my socioeconomic system would look for scholarships or grants. A white male in the upper-middle class with slightly above average grades in high school would have an extremely difficult time finding any funding for school other than his own income. Ultimately, as it happened for myself and a few friends, they rely on their parents to pay for their education, which may or may not be entirely feasible. A woman in the same socioeconomic situation would still have a somewhat difficult time as was the case with my sister. A minority would have a relatively easy time, particularly if they have good grades or play sports. If my family was in the middle class the situation for me would change for the worse, for a woman it would get easier, and a minority would have no problem. The lower the socioeconomic class for any group other than white male the easier it gets to have money thrown at you for university, rendering my demographic group marginalized and therefore oppressed.

A more solid example of the oppressed becoming the oppressors is the current form of the feminist movement. The Onion recently put up an article satirizing the movement, and satire is a great way to convey absurdities. “I understand why some people might believe the only way to advance women’s rights is to slaughter every man on the planet, but that sort of radical, explicitly homicidal position, which for all I know is a fundamental aspect of feminism, is exactly what makes me hesitate to call myself a feminist.” (Onion) This reactionary form of feminism perpetuates oppression, and the article isn’t that far from the truth. Rawls, I feel, answers the question of oppression better. He says, in principle 2(b), that everyone must have a chance to gain any position. It isn’t based on your sex, social group, race, etc., it’s based on merit.

When it comes to justice for society a universal, rather than a relative, is needed. Society changes, yes, but what is just does not. By saying everything must be to the benefit of the least advantaged Rawls covers all forms of oppression Young lays out. Using a universal approach one can look back and say that certain actions were unjust; whereas a relativist approach would try to justify something by stating it was the norm during that time. The example that comes to mind immediately deals with Joseph Smith marrying a girl who was only fourteen. When this gets brought up around members of the church they attempt to justify it by saying that it wasn’t that uncommon during that time period (it was uncommon). Societal norms do change, but what is just does not.

Young wants democracy everywhere. I take issue with this. We can look to our current congress and see the amazing job they’ve done, and that’s a representative body. In a government, if every decision had to be voted on nothing would get accomplished, or it would lead to a tyranny of the majority. That’s if everyone voted, as it stands we struggle to get above a 50% turnout rate during midterm elections. A government based on this would fail. Young goes a step further, wanting democracy in the workplace. Generally speaking a for-profit institution wants to make money. That’s the incentive. They hire people based on merit, and promote people who do well at their job. Some of the people who get into supervisorial positions may not be liked by the majority of people they lead, and in a system where you can vote on a supervisor that person gets kicked out, despite their skill. Politicizing the workplace would kill skill and promote incompetence. Putting this into perspective with Rawls’ theory, he would say that in politicizing everything you are not providing the greatest benefit for the least advantaged. If low-income jobs the poorest members of society generally get were to remove merit it would not be a means for them to lift themselves up into a better position. Young may retort by saying that if low-income workers had more of a say in the company they would be able to lift themselves faster. The problem with that is the nature of business. If they are paying out as much as they are making they’ll close the business. There’s no incentive for a business to come into being if they will be at the whim of people they hire, who don’t have as much of a stake in it as the owner.

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A society based on Rawls’ theory would be more just than one based on Young’s theory. Young lost me when she claimed to base her theory on history but failed to adequately research one of her examples of oppression. Her approach would create a pattern of oppression. Justice requires a universal, not a relative. Politicizing everything would get nothing accomplished, and it would not lead to a benefit of the least advantaged.

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A Just Society’s Concept as Per Rawls and Young’s Argument. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 2, 2023, from
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