Self-respect is a good whose value seems undeniable. As a consequence, it presents itself as a notion capable of justifying the value of other goods. Indeed it has been employed in this way by a number of philosophers. The most prominent of this is Rawls.
Rawls has an unambiguous notion of self-respect, though he sometimes is unclear as to whether this notion has merely instrumental or also intrinsic value. Rawls’s main objective in arguing that justice as fairness supports citizens’ self-respect is not, as many have thought, to show that his principles support citizens’ self-respect generally, but to show that his principles counter the effects of the market on lower class citizens’ sense of worth.First, Rawls claims that self-respect the secure conviction that one’s plan of life is worth carrying out is what he calls a “primary social good.” It is, along with wealth, liberties, and opportunities, a necessary all-purpose means for citizens, as moral persons, to achieve their ends. He maintains, that because self-respect has this special role, the provision of self-respect is a matter of justice.
Indeed, political arrangements can be judged just or unjust in part on the basis of whether those arrangements sustain self-respect. Third, he argues that the arrangements proposed by justice as fairness indeed secure citizens’ self-respect. He concludes that those arrangements are, to that extent. In A Theory of Justice, Rawls de?nes self-respect or self-esteem he uses the terms interchangeable as follows: “First,” he says, “it includes a person’s sense of his own value, his secure conviction that his conception of the good, his plan of life, is worth carrying out.” So, there are two separate aspects to Rawls’s account of self-respect. One involves con?dence in one’s capacity to pursue a conception of the good. Call this the “self-con?dence aspect.
” The other involves a secure belief that one’s conception of the good is worth pursuing. Call this the “sense of one’s value aspect. Now, as it turns out, the self-con?dence aspect of Rawls’s account does very little justi?catory work in his theory. His arguments that various features of justice as fairness support citizens’ self-respect rarely invoke the self-con?dence aspect. So, to set aside, for the purposes of this paper, this aspect of Rawls’s view and focus on the sense of worth aspect. There are three of these. The ?rst is the duty of mutual respect, which Rawls thinks would be adopted by the parties in the original position along with his two principles of distributive justice.
The two principles of distributive justice include, ?rst, the equal liberty principle, which prescribes the equal distribution of the maximal degree of liberty compatible with its being distributed equally. The second allows inequalities of wealth provided that there is substantive equality of opportunity and that the inequalities maximally bene?t the person with the least wealth. The second of these constraints on inequality is termed the “difference principle. The second political circumstance that supports citizens’ self-respect, according to Rawls, is the difference principle and the third is the “lexical ordering” of his two principles, also known as the doctrine of the priority of liberty.
This doctrine prohibits constraining liberty forth sake of increased wealth. I shall assume, of a sense of justice. The original position is, one might say, the appropriate initial status quo, and the fundamental agreements reached in it are fair. The name does not mean that the concepts of justice and fairness are the same, any more that the phrase “poetry as metaphor” means that the concepts of poetry and metaphor are the same. There is, however, another side to justifying a particular description of the original position. This is to see if the principles which would be chosen match our considered convictions of justice or extend them in an acceptable way. We can note whether applying these principles would lead us to make the same judgments about the basic structure of society which we now make intuitively and in which we have the greatest confidence; or whether, in cases where our present judgments are in doubt and given with hesitation, these principles offer a resolution which we can affirm on reflection. There are questions which we feel sure must be answered in a certain way.
For example, we are confident that religious intolerance and racial discrimination are unjust. We think that we have examined these things with care and have reached what we believe is an impartial judgment not likely to be distorted by an excessive attention to our own interests. These convictions are provisional fixed points which we presume any conception of justice must fit. But we have much less assurance as to what is the correct distribution of wealth and authority.
Here we may be looking for a way to remove our doubts. We can check an interpretation of the initial situation, then, by the capacity of its principles to accommodate our firmest convictions and to provide guidance where guidance is needed. In searching for the most favored description of this situation we work from both ends.
We begin by describing it so that it represents generally shared and preferably weak conditions. We then see if these conditions are strong enough to yield a significant set of principles. If not, we look for further premises equally reasonable. But if so, and these principles match our considered convictions of justice, then so far well and good.
But presumably there will be discrepancies. In this case we have a choice. We can either modify the account of the initial situation or we can revise our existing judgments, for even the judgements we take provisionally as fixed points are liable to revision. By going back and forth, sometimes altering the conditions of the contractual circumstances, at others withdrawing our judgments and conforming them to principle, I assume that eventually we shall find a description of the initial situation that both expresses reasonable conditions and yields principles which match our considered judgments duly pruned and adjusted. This state of affairs I refer to as reflective equilibrium.
Moreover, Rawls, to a certain degree, invites this objection because the passages explaining the political circumstances that secure self-respect are often cryptic. Rawls is attempting in these passages to show that certain aspects of his view are justi?ed by the fact that they promote self-respect. Yet, in each case, he brie?y describes the aspect that he wishes to justify and then simply asserts that this aspect advances citizens’ self-respect. He does not make explicit the connection between the aspect and self-respect and he rarely speaks in terms of the de?nition of self-respect that he has proposed the conviction that one’s endeavors are worth carrying out. The reader, then, is left wondering how the feature of Rawls’s view that is said to secure citizens’ self-respecting fact advances the ideal of self-respect he has identi?ed as primary social good. Now, Rawls is aware that it might seem that only very talented people who are surrounded by other very talented people are likely to have self-respect on this view of what encourages self-respect. He denies that this is the case, however, because the Aristotelian Principle, he says, “is always relative to the individual” (1971: 441). A person’s activities ful?ll the Aristotelian Principle if they are suitably complex given his capabilities.
Moreover, societies are diverse in their associations so a person can ?nd a group of people with similar tastes and capability levels who will af?rm his undertakings (1971:441–2). As long as this is the case, then, each person, no matter the extent of his capabilities, will have the opportunity to come to value his endeavors. Rawls’s account of the relation between self-respect and both the Aristotelian Principle and the appreciation of others is consistent with both the good-for-oneself and the mattering interpretations of self-respect.
If one ?nds one’s activities challenging and engaging one will be lead to think that those activities are both suitable for oneself and that they matter. If our endeavors bring us satisfaction, we tend to think, as Rawls says, that they are worth doing.So, Rawls’s appeal to the Aristotelian Principle and the appreciation of others as personal supports for self-respect is consistent with both the good for oneself and the mattering interpretations of self-respect.
The assumptions behind A Theory of Justice are essentially redistributive: That is, Rawls posits equal distribution of resources as the desirable state and then argues that inequality can be justified only by benefits for the least advantaged. Thus, attempts to improve the condition of the least advantaged through redistribution are unjust because they make some people work involuntarily for others and deprive people of the goods and opportunities they have created through time and effort.