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John Rawls’ Theory of Justice.

Ques. Examine the feminist critique of John Rawls’ theory of Justice.  

Answer

  • John Rawls ‘A Theory of Justice’ possibly presents one of the most influential and accepted contemporary theories on distributive and procedural justice. He conceptualizes an original position with a veil of ignorance to come up with the most apt principles for distribution of a set of primary goods required in every society. 
  • However, Rawls’ theory has received a lot of criticism from multiple quarters- including feminists. Susan Moller Okin in her book Justice, Gender and the Family points out that most philosophical works on justice, including Rawls’, rarely consider the working of the family as being significant for any discussion on justice. 
  • The family is considered to be ‘private’ and justice as an idea has a bearing on the ‘public’ sphere. This assumption overlooks the fact that the family and its working is itself to a very great extent constituted by the ‘public’ world of laws and institutions and ideas of justice that constitute it. 
  • Another major criticism labelled by feminist scholars like Carol Pateman, against Rawls’ is that in his scheme it is only the heads of households—assumed to be men—who come together and agree to accept the principles of justice, thereby leaving women out. She labels Rawls’ contract as being patriarchal. 
  • Another major criticism comes from difference feminists like Carol Gilligan who in her work ‘Ethics of Care’ argues that Rawls’ model of a self-interested, autonomous, rational and individualistic person is a typically male conception and leaves little scope for values and practices like nurturing, caring, co-operation and empathy that are typically female qualities. Thus, they argue that female qualities are not represented in Rawls’ original position. 
  • The feminist scholars while provoking adequate criticisms against Rawls fail to provide an alternative theory of justice based on female values and nuances that can replace Rawls’. Further, the multiple perspectives often end up clashing with one another rather than having a unified front against a patriarchal notion of justice.

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