Philosophy Lecture Series with Henry West, Lecture 3: Theories of Justice

7:30 AM  - 9:00 AM
Tuesday Apr 15, 2014
Room 250, Olin-Rice Science Center

Join the early-rising Macalester community for three lectures by everybody's favorite philosophy professor, Henry West, Tuesday mornings at 7:30 a.m., April 1, 8 and 15. Coffee and pastries will be provided. Best parking is in the Leonard Center lot, off Snelling. Find it online here.

Lecture 3: April 15 - Theories of Justice Dr. West will discuss theories developed by John Rawls, (A Theory of Justice), Robert Nozick (Anarchy, State and Revolution) and others.

Register online here. Choose to attend one, two or all three lectures.

Questions? Contact the Alumni Office for non-philosophical questions at

The 20th century saw the publication of A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls. In this book, he has a proposal that one can arrive at a fair theory of justice by supposing that one does not know one’s position in society—one’s wealth and income, position of power authority, degree of freedom and opportunity, one’s religion or lack thereof, selfishness or unselfishness, family and other relations, conservative or liberal or radical political views, and all the other bases of self-respect. He claims that if one were ignorant of these facts about oneself, the theory of justice that one would advocate would give a priority to the greatest liberty consistent with a like liberty for all, and that any differences in wealth and income, power and authority, etc., should be for the greatest benefit of the lowest class in society.

In contrast to Rawls’s position, some other philosophers, such as Robert Nozick, in Anarchy, State, and Revolution, believe that the foundation for justice is a system of rights, including property rights, and that if inequalities in wealth and income have resulted without the violation of any rights, then the resulting pattern of inequality, no matter how great, is just, not unjust.

A utilitarian theory of justice evaluates a system property rights on the criterion of whether it maximizes happiness and minimizes unhappiness. Utilitarians have generally supported property rights, but within limits, appealing to the principle of diminishing marginal utility—that a given amount of income buys more happiness and less unhappiness for people who are less well off than those who already have high incomes and levels of wealth. As a result, utilitarians tend to support some form of socialism or welfare-state capitalism. Rawls also comes to that conclusion. In dealing with equality and inequality, one of the issues is whether it should be equality of condition or only equality of opportunity.

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This event is for: Alumni, Staff, Faculty and Public

Sponsored By: Alumni Office

Categories: Alumni Events