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1994 UCL Jurisprudence Rev. 59 (1994)
Rawls Theory of Justice and his Criticism of Utilitarianism

handle is hein.journals/ucljurev1 and id is 67 raw text is: RAWLS THEORY OF JUSTICE AND HIS CRITICISM OF UTILITARIANISM
Selene Brett
Introduction
In A Theory Of Justice Rawls seeks to construct an alternative to utilitarian thought.' The
objective of this essay is to assess how effectively Rawls does this. It concludes that while
seeking to create a coherent alternative, Rawls fails to evade fully the criticisms he makes of
utilitarianism. His resulting theory therefore contains a good deal of that which he purports
to reject.
This essay comprises four sections.   The first section consists of a brief account of
utilitarianism. The second section sets out Rawls's main criticisms of utilitarianism. The third
section describes Rawls's alternative to utilitarianism: his theory of justice as fairness The
fourth section explores the common ground between Rawls's criticisms of utilitarianism and
justice as fairness The fifth section offers a possible explanation for the existence of the
similarities uncovered.
Utilitarianism
Utilitarians perceive society as rightly ordered, and therefore just, when its social institutions
serve to maximise aggregate utility. Four key features of utilitarianism are: 1) it has one goal
(to maximise utility), 2) it is consequentialist (the rightness of an action depends on the
consequences it produces), 3) it emphasizes equality (peoples interests are to weigh equally),
and 4) it appeals to rationality. These features of utilitarianism are set out in more detail
below. Some of it's faults, subtleties and responses to criticisms are uncovered throughout
the course of this essay.
Utilitarianism is monistic  it identifies as the sole basis of morality the requirement that
happiness (or however one defines utility)2 be maximised. As Glover writes: Happiness is
the only thing that is good in itself. Unhappiness is the only thing that is bad in itself.
Everything else is only good or bad in its tendency to produce happiness or unhappiness.
Other values (such as liberties, rights and deserts) are relevant only insofar as they affect this
one supreme aim.
Utilitarianism is forward-looking. It evaluates the probable consequences of possible present
actions in order to assess their justifiability. Past events and principles of common morality
'A Theory OfJustice (TJ) p.22
2 Throughout the course of this essay, I will define it as welfare
Utilitarianism And Its Critics
59

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