Rawls ask us to imagine a situation in which free and equal persons, concerned to advance their own interests, attempt to arrive at unanimous agreement on principles that will serve as the basis for constructing the major institutions of society. He describes persons in this imaginary situation as self-interested agents, who evaluate principles according to whether they help or hinder them in achieving their ends (Boatright, 2004, p. 73).
Rawls in A Theory of Justice is similar to traditional contract theories, which assume that if individuals in some hypothetical pre-contract situation would unanimously accept certain terms for governing their relations, then those terms are just and all people have an obligation to abide by them (Boatright, 2004, p. 72). Rawls position is “Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity. Even if it were to the advantage of everyone to exclude some groups from certain positions, such a denial of opportunity could not be justified because individuals would be deprived of an important human good, namely, the opportunity for self-development (Boatright, 2004, p. 185). Example: Rawls believes in justice, fairness and equilty but everyone can’t receive the same justice for their crimes, everyone can’t be the same size or learn the same way.
Robert Nozick thinks that any acceptable principle of justice must be nonpatterned because any particular pattern of distribution can be achieved and maintained only by violating the right to liberty. Upholding the right to liberty, in turn, upsets any particular pattern of justice (Boatright, 2004, p. 78) Nozick’s theory differ from the principle of utility and Rawls’s theory in two major respects.
First, they are historical principles as opposed to nonhistorical or end-state principles. Historical principles, Nozick explains, take into account the process by which a distribution came about, whereas end-state principles evaluate a distribution with regard to certain structural features at a given time (Boatright, 2004, p. 79) The principles of justice in both utilitarianism and Rawls’s theory are patterned.
A principle is patterned if it specifies some feature in a particular distribution and evaluates the distribution according to the presence or absence of that feature (Boatright, 2004, p. 79) Example: If one person started a company no matter how he started it. If the company is handed down from generation to generation in a just way the steps it took to get there are justified. Reference Boatright, J. R. (2007). Ethics and the conduct of business (5th ed. ). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.