Social Justice, Utilitarianism, and Indigenous Australians
John Stuart Mill, an important 19th century Utilitarian, argued that both political and economic freedom were indispensable requirements for happiness. Using much the same view of human beings and human life as Aristotle, Mill asserted that democracy and the basic political liberties, freedom of speech, assembly, and worship were crucial elements to an individual’s pursuit of a good and satisfying life. Furthermore, he argued that some degree of economic prosperity was essential to having a realistic chance of living such a life, of attaining one’s ends.
The chief argument against Utilitarianism goes as follows: Utilitarianism implies that a society is just if it is so organized that the overall or average happiness or well-being of its members is maximized, however a society so organized can still be unjust and therefore Utilitarianism is incorrect as a theory of justice (Care & Landesman 1968).
In An Egalitarian Theory of Justice (1971) John Rawls attempts to refute this argument. Rawls discusses the elements necessary for a society to be just for all. He begins with the supposition that in a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are not based on social circumstances, financial position or authority. Rawls defines society as an association of individuals who recognize certain rules of conduct and behave accordingly in order to advance the good of the participants. This arrangement harbors an inherent conflict. On one hand social cooperation makes it possible for individuals to live a better life than if they were to live solely on their own efforts, on the other hand because individuals are not indifferent as to how these greater benefits are distributed and they will naturally pursue larger share. Rawls claims that this phenomenon requires that a set of social principles be established to ensure justice so that the advantaged do not unfairly gain by their...