How would a utilitarian answer to John Rawls’ theory of justice?

I suspect this is far too broad a question to answer definitively without additional qualification. Here are some considerations that would probably be productive additions to the mix:

1. Which utilitarian — or which “flavor” of utilitarianism (i.e. “negative;” “act;” “rule;” “motive;” etc.) — is being consulted.

2. Whether that utilitarian/flavor of utilitarianism includes something close to a Rawlian characterization of justice as fairness (in contrast to liberty or equality alone, for example) in the moral framing of their version of utility.

3. Whether or not a particular utilitarian (regardless of their flavor of utilitarianism) agrees with Rawlian logic (i.e. his “two principles of justice” and veil-of-ignorance test). If they do, then they might exclaim: “Good job Rawls!” if Rawlian logic facilitates conditions they would agree with. If they don’t agree — or they can’t envision a supportive level of facilitation for conditions they would value — well then they wouldn’t be as laudatory.

Without such qualification, it is nigh unto impossible to estimate a generic response. As one approach, I would recommend taking just one prominent thinker — say Karl Popper — and attempting to analyze Rawlian proposals within just his elucidation of negative utility and critiques of utopianism. This would still be speculative, but likely much more fruitful (and certainly more focused) than attempting to anticipate every possible variation of utilitarian response.

My 2 cents.


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