John Rawls, philosopher, died on 24 November 2002. His book Theory of Justice (1971) is famous for its analysis of the moral and ethical issues that revolve around the question, "How should society be organized?"
Simple fairness is of central import, Rawls contended, so much so that "Justice as Fairness" became a mantra associated with him. He suggested that people, if placed in an "original position" of ignorance about where they would end up economically and politically and socially in the world, would choose a structure that would make sure the worst-off were in as good a shape as possible. This would probably involving safety-nets, social insurance, and the like.
It's an appealing notion in many ways. Perhaps it could have been presented as a novel twist on utilitarianism via minimax game-theoretic ideas. Alas, Rawls made his argument within a matrix of distractingly doctrinaire prose --- unconvincing and hard to read, at least for me. He also ignored or avoided, as far as I can tell, extensions of his concepts to nonhuman animals and their fair treatment.
But on the other hand Rawls was clearly kind-hearted and worked, as much as he could, to help other people. My son Merle recently told me of a phrase used in the classic video game "Zero Wing" (see AllYourBaseAreBelongToUs (28 Aug 2002)) --- the last words said by a character about to sacrifice his life in a noble cause. They make a fitting epitaph:
|For Great Justice --- John Rawls, 1921-2002|