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John Rawls’ “A theory of justice” published in 1971, changed contemporary political theory. In the book, John Rawls presented a reformulation of the social contract theory of John Locke, Jean Jacque Rosseau and Immanuel Kant, providing a justification of the liberal state. According to John Rawls, parties to a contract in an original position would accept two principles of justice to regulate the basic structure of society. The two principles  are; Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive system of equal liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all. Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both; A)  To the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, consistent with the just saving principle B) Attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity. The second principle being my point of focus, can be better understood in two categories, which are; fair equality of opportunity and the difference principle. John Rawls second principle of justice can be seen as a distributive justice. The aim of this work is to critically examine John Rawls second principle of justice, looking at the positive and negative aspects of the second principle of justice according to John Rawls. The method that will be employed will be the analytic critical method because that will seem as the best method if one is to properly analyse John Rawls second principle of justice and thoroughly criticize it.




In the history of philosophy, the issue of justice has always been a serious debate. The debate is all about what the concept ‘justice’ means and how it can be attained in a society. Thrasymachus, an ancient Greek philosopher, equated justice with ‘‘might is right’’. According to Christopher Stolleri, ‘’Justice is a concept that is balanced between law and morality’’1. Morality has to do with the rightness or wrongness of an action. Laws are laid down principles that guide a society and they can be used for the good or bad of a nation’s citizens. For Joseph Omoregbe, ‘’the foundation of Justice is the fundamental equality of all men’’2. Justice is applied in a society so that there will be peace and harmony in the society. A society is an aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community.

From this, various philosophers gave their various theories of how justice can be attained in the society.

Socrates, a Greek philosopher, felt that justice can be attained in a society when wisdom is employed. For Plato, it is when philosophers are kings in the society. According to Karl Marx, a just society is a classless society which he referred to as communism. John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham are of the view that we arrive at a just society when the society acts to provide ‘’the greatest good for the greatest number’.

John Rawls provided his own theory of justice by criticizing   the utilitarian view of justice because it can be abused, leading to the ‘’tyranny of the majority’’ (Nazi Germany’s mistreatment of the Jews and the United States mistreatment of African Americans)3. Rawls’ approach guards against this common source of injustice.

Principles of justice are the principles that rational and free persons that are concerned to further their interests would accept in an initial position of equality as defining fundamentals of the term of their association.4 In his book, ‘A Theory of Justice’, like Plato, Rawls imagines a political society structured on principles of justice, a just society where nobody complains of injustice, a society governed by principles of justice.

From the above, John Rawls came up with his own idea of a just society by providing two principles that can guide a society to attain the state of a just society. He did this by giving a theory of the people in the original position wearing a veil of ignorance that they would not be partial. One of John Rawls’ primary aim was to set forth the appropriate moral conception that was better suited to interpreting the democratic values of freedom and equality than the reigning utilitarian tradition.

It is in the light of this background that my research intends to critically analyze the principles that John Rawls gave to guide us to a just society. In order to achieve this, I shall consider the following: the people of the original position, the veil of ignorance and the principles accepted, mainly focusing on his second principle of justice.



            The second principle states that: social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) to the greatest benefit of all the least advantaged, consistent with the just saving principle, (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.

Various problems arise, for instance, can there ever really be equal opportunities given the fact that nature itself is not equal? Is it fair for things to be shared equally when people do not give the same quota to the society? How do the individuals gain possession of goods?

Although John Rawls’ principle of justice is an improvement from some other solutions to the problem of justice, the question is, can we say that John Rawls’ second principle of justice is adequate in guiding a society to a state where it can be regarded as a just society? Can it be universally accepted? These questions are the core areas of this study.



This study will focus primarily on John Rawls’ second principle of justice, but before then, I shall view the steps that led to accepting the principle and I shall also give a critique of John Rawls’ second principle of justice.

Although my research will be far and wide, the scope of this study however shall be limited entirely on John Rawls second principle of justice.



This study aims at providing better understanding of John Rawls second principle of justice, by analyzing it. There will also be a critique of John Rawls’ second principle of justice so that the tenability of the principle can be assessed. By understanding John Rawls’ second principle of justice better and viewing the various critiques, we can finally be able to evaluate and pass a judgment if it can really guide a society to becoming a just society.



This study helps to give a full understanding of John Rawls’ second principle of justice, taking note of its positive and negative side without accepting it dogmatically. Rawls argues that his principles of justice should be used to assess the justice of actual social institutions, such as political government that govern human being.

We can decide if John Rawls’ second principle can guide a society into a just society. With this project, after critically analyzing John Rawls’ second principle of justice, we can decide for ourselves if it is the answer to the problem of our present day society or if it is just another theory to be disregarded.



             In this project, I shall employ the analytical cum critical method. I shall rely on data collection from text books, articles, journals, the internet and any other source relevant to this project topic. This method will help us to fully understand John Rawls’ second principle of justice and pose some critical question.


The first book reviewed is authored by John Rawls himself, titled “Theory of Justice’’ published in 1971 by Harvard University Press. I reviewed this book for the obvious reason that it was written by John Rawls himself. This book gave us a firsthand view of John Rawls’ principle of justice.

Another book reviewed is by Samuel Freeman titled “Rawls” published in 2007 by Freeman, projected an understanding of Rawls’ work. He gave attention to every detail and this is as a result of his awareness of the overall structure of the theory and the philosophical significance of Rawls’ grand strategy.

I also reviewed a book by Joseph Omoregbe titled “Social-Political Philosophy and International Relations” published in 2007 Lagos. This book gave an in depth meaning of justice, it also emphasized the idea of distributive justice in which John Rawls second principle of justice can be classified under. From there, Omoregbe breaks down John Rawls’ idea of the principle of justice.

Another book that was reviewed is by Paul Graham titled “Rawls” published in 2007 by One World thinkers. In this book, Paul Graham gave his own interpretation and understanding of John Rawls’ work.

I also reviewed a book by Stumpf and Abel titled “Elements of philosophy” published in 2002 by McGraw-Hill. This book gives a clear and simple explanation of John Rawls’ book. “A theory of justice”, give extracts from the book.

Another of Joseph Omoregbe’s book “A Simplified History of Western Philosophy” was also reviewed. It was published in 1991 at Ikeja, Lagos. This book gave a more elaborate understanding of John Rawls principles of justice, by giving us the four systems which Rawls examine to see which of them is conducive to the realization of the second principle which demands that the least advantaged the poor, is always favoured by any change or socio-economic arrangement in society.