Rawls argues for his proposed set of Principles of Justice through the thought-experiment of the original position.
The first of these principles is the Liberty Principle,establishing equal basic liberties for all citizens. 'Basic' liberty entails the (familiar in the liberal tradition) freedoms of conscience, association, and expression as well as democratic rights;Rawls also includes a personal property right, but this is defended in terms of moral capacities and self-respect, rather than an appeal to a natural right of self-ownership: this distinguishesRawls' account from the classical liberalism of John Locke and the libertarianism of Robert Nozick).
Rawls argues that a second principle of equality would be agreed upon, to guarantee libertiesrepresent meaningful options for all in society and ensure distributive justice. For example, formal guarantees of political voice and freedom of assembly are of little real worth to the desperately poorand marginalized in society. Demanding that everyone have exactly the same effective opportunities in life would almost certainly offend the very liberties that are supposedly being equalized.Nonetheless, we would want to ensure at least the "fair worth" of our liberties: wherever one ends up in society, one wants life to be worth living, with enough effective freedom to pursue personal goals.Thus participants would be moved to affirm a two-part second principle comprising Fair Equality of Opportunity and the famous (and controversial) difference principle. This second principle ensures thatthose with comparable talents and motivation face roughly similar life chances and that inequalities in society work to the benefit of the least advantaged.
Rawls held that these principles ofjustice apply to the "basic structure" of fundamental social institutions (such as the judiciary, the economic structure, the political constitution), a qualification that has been the source of some...