Political Philosophy

Writing Assignment 1
[Use as many sources that you think is appropriate]
According to Rawls, justice is about preserving the equal liberty of all [the principle of equal liberty] and guaranteeing the fair equality of opportunity for all and a fair distribution of resources [the difference principle]. These principles of justice are arrived at from behind a “veil of ignorance”: people deliberating about how to organize a pluralistic society should not know the particulars of their lives—economic, racial, gender, and so on. That information would impede rational deliberation and cloud people’s judgments, influencing them in the wrong kind of way. The veil of ignorance guarantees fairness in the outcome of deliberation.

In contrast, Nussbaum argues that the prevailing Rawlsian distributive model for understanding and implementing just institutions is flawed. We cannot arrive at a just society of opportunities, or capabilities, for all unless we begin by understanding the lives of each as equally valuable. We need to know the particulars, start from understanding people’s actual lives and the constraints they might be facing. Then we can enable individuals to exercise their capabilities and live good human lives, dignified lives.

Do you find Nussbaum’s objection to the Rawlsian distributive model convincing? Is she right that we should legislate and come up with policies understanding fully how individuals are situated in the nonpolitical world, that is, what their compounded personal and background conditions are and how they affect their capabilities? Why or why not?

Do you agree with Nussbaum that a just political order is one that enables all the capabilities on her list for everyone and as a matter of human dignity? Is the list too much, too little, or just right? Either way, refer to at least three on the list to illustrate your claim.


These are very difficult questions, so I do not expect lengthy or complex answers. I want you to think and compare these approaches to addressing issues of justice, one from a thin conception of the good life and another from a thicker one. Is it better to abstract from the whole context of individuals’ lives and “legislate for all,” whoever “all” is? Or is it necessary to have the full story, contextual and substantive, before we legislate “for each and all.” That is the key question on which Rawls and Nussbaum disagree.

I want you to argue for your answer, give reasons and justify your answer. Review the Rawls and Nussbaum Power Points on Canvas for reference. Remain focused on your course text and the Power Points. Do not make abstract claims, or write vague generalities, with no reference to our materials. Do not use any sources other than your course text and the Power Points.

The Writing Assignment should be no more than two pages long, double-spaced 12 pt. font, 1-inch margins.

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