Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

The Theory of Justice in a Warming Climate - John Rawls' Theory Applied to Finland

Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

The Theory of Justice in a Warming Climate - John Rawls' Theory Applied to Finland

Article excerpt

Keywords:

John Rawls, theory of justice, climate change, economic growth, developing countries

Abstract

This article test, whether John RawlsTheory of Justice is still relevant in a warming climate. The starting point is Finland, which is assumed as a useful example, as many social indicators suggest that Finland is close to Rawlsian egalitarian standards of distributive justice. The theory is brought to the globalized world of 21st century, by widening the perspective from the original society level to a global level. It can be argued that economic growth in developed countries benefits people in developing countries, as we can afford to give more development aid. I argue, however, that this has not been large enough to compensate for it's the negative side effects, most notably that of a warming climate. Furthermore, the costs of current carbon-fueled economic growth favouring present generations in the developed countries will mainly be paid by future generations of the poor in developing countries.

Introduction

The purpose of this article is to examine whether further economic growth can be justified in a warming climate in the light of John Rawls' Theory of justice. To be justified, it should be to the benefit of the least advantaged, which I argue to include those with social problems.

According to John Rawls (1971), the principles presented in his Theory of Justice could also work as a part of economic theory. Unfortunately, its use has mainly been restricted to the use of the second principle of justice as a justification for maintaining current inequalities in income and wealth. In this article, I will show that we end up with a quite different result if we take the thought process, described by Rawls properly through. This way, we also avoid G. A. Cohen's (2000) critique, in his aptly named book If You're an Egalitarian, How Come You're So Rich, of the use of the Theory of Justice as a factual defense of inequality. Similar critique has also been presented by Sirkku Hellsten (1997).

I start with a brief presentation of the two principles of justice for institutions that would be formed behind the veil of ignorance. I pass the discussion about the justification of this original position and the principles of justice formed there, and take its justification for granted. The Theory of Justice is the source of such a large amount of literature that it is impossible here to cover this.1 Instead, I assume that the participants in the original position want to do a test run on the principles of justice and make adjustments thereafter if needed. The starting point for this test run is Finland, which is assumed as a useful example, as many social indicators suggest that Finland (like other Nordic states) is close to a Rawlsian egalitarian standards of distributive justice (Føllesdal 2002). Any other affluent country could, however, act as the starting point for repeated test runs.

I bring the Theory of Justice to the globalized world of the 21st century, by widening the perspective from the original society level to a global level. I take into account the concept of environmental space and global climate change caused by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions (Compare to Singer 2002: 8-9). Finally, I suggest a way to achieve economic growth that can be justified from a Rawlsian perspective in a warming climate.

The veil of ignorance and the difference principle

According to Rawls (1999a: 118), a genuine ethical discussion is possible only if people at least for a moment forget their own advantage and commit themselves to consider matters merely from a general view:

Somehow we must nullify the effects of specific contingencies which put men at odds and tempt them to exploit social and natural circumstances to their own advantage. Now in order to do this I assume that the parties are situated behind a veil of ignorance. They do not know how the various alternatives will affect their own particular case and they are obliged to evaluate principles solely on the basis of general considerations. …

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