Long grass and folilage

Abstract

Rawls argues that utilitarianism does not take seriously the distinction between persons, whereas justice as fairness does. In some detail, this short paper looks at Rawls’s argument for the difference principle. First, it reconstructs the indifference curves corresponding to Rawls’s well-known criticism that utilitarianism allows the lesser losses of some to be justified by the greater gains of others. Second, it claims that Rawls incorrectly interprets the utilitarian indifference curves, insofar as he does not consider diminishing marginal utility. Third, it shows how these curves ought to be redrawn in consideration of diminishing marginal utility, and argues that, once redrawn, the utilitarian picture resembles the difference principle in contexts relevant to distributive justice. Finally, it concludes that, in light of this resemblance, Rawls’s criticism of utilitarianism, although not entirely refuted, might be taken somewhat less seriously.

Justice, Utility, and the Difference Principle (pdf)