Equality, difference principle and institutions

Constanza Salgado

Profesora, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez

Abstract: This article analyzes the second principle of justice proposed by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism —the “difference principle”. This principle plays an important role not only in Rawls’s theory but also in the “egalitarian liberal” tradition. This article criticizes the “difference principle” because it justifies relevant inequalities. The “difference principle” considers the selfish claim of those who refuse to share the wealth they produce a “circumstance of justice” and their motivation as “unalterable”. This article also explains Gerald Cohen’s famous critique of the “difference principle”, but contends that Cohen’s critique is only partially correct. Finally, the article criticizes both Rawls and Cohen because neither of them take seriously the role that institutions play in shaping human motivations. Institutions determine not only the kind of people we are and want to be, but also the way in which we interact with others. For this reason, an egalitarian principle cannot take selfish human motivations as unalterable, but instead should promote institutions that change these motivations.

Key words: Difference principle, inequality, Rawls, Cohen, institutions.

Full text in spanish (Pdf)