Rawls-Two Concepts of Rules

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Rawls-Two Concepts of Rules

Post by Admin on Wed Jun 17, 2015 10:23 am

Rawls attempts to defend utilitarianism against two criticisms:
1. A Utilitarian would have to agree that punishing an innocent person, as long as it produces the best overall utility, is morally justified.
2. A Utilitarian would have to agree that breaking a promise, as long as it produces the best overall utility, is morally justified.

One can see the logical parallels between the two criticisms presented. Both statements argue that breaking the rules of a practice are morally justified as long as, in breaking them, one produces the greatest utility.

To argue this thinking, Rawls first presents a distinction between (a) a practice and (b) an action within that practice.

In the utilitarian case of punishment, the legal system itself is a (a) practice; it's purpose is to deter future crime via punishment. The judging of an individual offense, through the lens of the legal system, is an (b) action within that practice; it's purpose is to either acquit or to convict and, if the defendant is convicted, sentence them for a certain amount of time. The how long is determined through a retributive lens, where the moral depravity, or intention, of the crime is weighed.

In this way, the overarching purpose of the punishment system is utilitarian (or consequentialist) and the particular cases of the structure are retributive without one necessarily excluding the other.

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