The First Principle of Justice and Property-owning Democracy

Oct 5, 2016 | 12:00 PM

Zhou Lian (Associate Professor, School of Philosophy, Renmin University, China; HYI Visiting Scholar)
Chair/discussant: Eric Beerbohm (Professor of Government, Harvard University)

John Rawls distinguishes five kinds of regimes viewed as social systems, complete with their political, economic, and social institutions: (a) laissez-faire capitalism; (b) welfare-state capitalism; (c) state socialism with a command economy; (d) property-owning democracy; and finally, (e) liberal (democratic) socialism. He claims that the former three systems violate the two principles of justice in at least one way, and that only property-owning democracy and liberal (democratic) socialism satisfy the two principles of justice. The justification of the thin conception of economic liberties in the first principle of justice is the key to understanding Rawls’s claim. As James Nickel and Benjamin Barros suggest, Rawls’s justification is not convincing in some aspects, hence, which social systems satisfy the two principles of justice remains an open question.