Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Practical Philosophy and Applied Ethics (MA)


Philosophy and Religious Studies

NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Hans-Herbert Koegler

Second Advisor

Dr. Mitchell Haney

Third Advisor

Dr. Erinn Gilson

Department Chair

Dr. Mitchell Haney

College Dean

Dr. Barbara A. Hetrick


This thesis attempts to provide a coherent view of the idea of ‘justice as fairness’ and, in particular, the ‘difference principle’ expressed by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice. The main focus of the thesis is the difference principle and its limits. Rawls’s conception of ‘justice as fairness’ is based on the thought experiment of the ‘original position’ in which people, considered as free and equal, deliberate under an imagined ‘veil of ignorance,’ i.e. not knowing which social roles or status they would occupy in their society. Rawls then argues that in the original position people come up with two major principles of justice, understood as principles that would be acceptable to people treated as free and equal. The second principle entails the so-called ‘difference principle,’ according to which the inequalities of, say, wealth and authority are just and fair only if they lead to compensating benefits for everybody and particularly the least advantaged. The thesis proceeds, then, by probing whether compared with other theories, , including a discussion of Dahl’s theory of democracy, Rawls’s difference principle could be a proper answer to one of the main questions of social justice. The questions is: how the economic fortune in a society should be distributed among citizens. However, despite Rawls’s aim to develop the difference principle as a practical normative theory, it fails to give us a pragmatic answer. The reason is: the statement of the difference principle fails to take into account one crucial point: to wit, the matter of time. The thesis develops two empirical economic scenarios to illustrate that there is a trade-off between the interests of the poor in short and long period of time. However, this important issue is not considered and discussed by Rawls which makes the theory inapplicable.