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Utilitarian models of the state, subordinating individual [#permalink]
31 Jan 2013, 10:43
This post received KUDOS
Utilitarian models of the state, subordinating individual rights to a calculus of maximum social welfare, have long been a de facto orthodoxy among political philosophers. Yet they run counter to the basic liberal concept of fairness, which deeply characterizes the intuitive American response to injustice, and provide succor to those who espouse radical solutions to social problems—socialism on the one hand and the new conservatism on the other. Those comfortable with these dogmas should take note of the philosophical revival of the once discarded notion of the social contract. This idea receives its fullest exposition in John Rawls's "A Theory of Justice."
Rather than adopt Rousseau's vision of naturalman—a picture almost impossible to conjure up in the face of more recent scientific knowledge—the new contractarians postulate a group of rational men and women gathered for the purpose of elucidating a concept of justice which will guide their affairs. They further assume that these people make their decision behind a veil of ignorance; that is, they are totally ignorant for now of their position in society—their race, their gender, their place in the social order. Yet the principles at which they arrive will bind them once the veil is lifted.
Starting from this original position, it can be logically demonstrated that rational beings would arrive at a decision ensuring the maximum possible justice and liberty for even the meanest member of society. Thus, freedom of speech, for example, would be inviolable, whereas the utilitarian could easily justify its abridgment for a greater social good. Second, social and economic inequality, which are the inevitable result of the lottery of birth, should be arranged such that they inhere in offices and stations in life available to all and thus are, by consensus, seen to be to everyone's advantage. Injustice, then, is defined as an unequal distribution of good things, with liberty being first among them.
While it can be and has been argued that the blind choosers envisioned by the new contractarians might well choose to gamble on the outcome of the social order, such arguments are ultimately lacking in interest. The point of the contractarian view does not lie in what real people "would" do in an admittedly impossible situation. Rather, it is to provide an abstract model that is intuitively satisfactory because, in fact, it corresponds to the ideas of "fairness" so deeply rooted in the American national psyche.
[Reveal] Spoiler: Passage Notes/Summary. Refer only after solving this RC
This is a challenging passage, with a lot of details, so it is especially important to actively take good notes when building our passage map. This map may contain more details than the average map, but this process can help us make sense of the passage as we need. Topic: Models of the state Scope: "Fairness" and the idea of a social contract Purpose: To explain the development and ideas of the new social contract. Paragraph 1: Established (“de facto”) utilitarian models of state versus the new social contract. 2 theories at odds about “fairness.” Details: John Rawls, “A Theory of Justice.” Paragraph 2: Contractarians' postulate on HOW concept of justice is formed. Details: Rousseau, veil of ignorance. Paragraph 3: WHAT contractarians' view of justice is. Details: another contrast to ultiliarians, “unequal distribution of good things”. Paragraph 4: Refute criticism of the new contractarians
1. The author most likely wrote this passage primarily to (A) outline and defend a contractarian view of justice (B) propose an alternative to radical solutions to social problems (C) compare the utilitarian and contractarian theories (D) explore the political theory of John Rawls (E) resurrect the idea of the social contract
This is a Global question, because we are asked about the author's primary purpose for writing the passage. Note that this is one of the most common questions that appear on GMAT Reading Comprehension passages, and that we are fully prepared to answer this question by simply using our Passage Map. Research Relevant Text in the Passage: We can look to our Purpose to identify a possible prediction. Make a Prediction: From our Passage Map, we know that the purpose of the passage was to explain and defend the concepts of the new social contract. Evaluate the Answer Choices: For "primary purpose" questions, we can first do a vertical scan of the answer choices and eliminate the verbs that definitively do not match our prediction. Looking at these answer choices, we can eliminate choices (B), propose, (C), compare, and (E), resurrect. Answer Choice (A) includes both verbs of our predicted purpose, and clearly matches our prediction. This is the correct answer choice. Choice (B) is wrong because the contractarian view IS a radical solution to social problems, not an alternative to such radical solutions. Choice (C): The author's primary purpose is not to compare two theories. Choice (D) distorts a detail from paragraph 1. The summary of contractarian philosophy that follows in paragraphs 2 and 3 is attributed not to Rawls but to the movement as a whole. Choice (E) is wrong because the idea of the social contract has already been resurrected; the author merely reports on this revival.
2. Which of the following is an assumption of the contractarian model, as presented by the author? (A) The decision makers act before acquiring any place in the social order. (B) All members of the contracting group will place a high value on personal liberty. (C) Justice can only be secured by ensuring that all positions in the social order have equal power and status. (D) The contracting parties will seek to safeguard their own liberties at the expense of the rights of others. (E) The members of society will accept restrictions on personal autonomy in order to gain peace and security.
This is a Detail question, since we can determine the contractarians' assumptions from the passage. We must research the relevant text and make a prediction. Research Relevant Text in the Passage: Based on our Passage Map, we can see that the assumptions of the contractarian model can be found in paragraphs 2. Look for the keywords "postulate" and "assume" in the paragraphs. New contractarians "postulate" a group of people who decide what will be considered justice in their new society. "They further assume" that this hypothetical group makes its decision while "totally ignorant" of what place they will hold in society. Make a Prediction: Their main assumption is then that they make their decisions without knowing the social order, and where they stand in this order. Evaluate the Answer Choices: Answer Choice (A) correctly restates our prediction, based on the information in paragraph 2. Choice (B) incorrectly assumes unanimity among the contracting group members, while the author implies only that a consensus will be reached. Choice (C) contradicts the second point made in Paragraph 3, that all positions in the social order will NOT have equal power and status. Choices (D) and (E) contradict the first point of Paragraph 3, which promises maximum personal liberty for all.
3. The author implies that a party to the social contract who "chose to gamble on the outcome of the social order" would select a principle of justice (A) allowing an unequal access to liberty and other social goods (B) based on equalization of material conditions and unequal personal liberty (C) based on the greatest possible equalization of both personal freedom and material circumstances (D) that explicitly denied inherent inequalities among the members of society (E) that valued the benefit of society in the aggregate over the freedom of the individual
This is an Inference question, since we are asked to deduce what the author implies about the contractarians "who choose to gamble". We must use our Passage Map to research the relevant text before evaluating the answer choices. Research Relevant Text in the Passage: The quote from the question stem appears in paragraph 4. Reviewing our notes from paragraph 4, we know that the author believes that the contractarians will select a principle of justice that is based in fairness and equality for everyone. However, pay careful attention to the keyword "gamble". The sure path would be to choose equality for everyone, but a gambler may choose an alternate decision. Make a Prediction: For Inference questions, a specific prediction is not useful to make. We must evaluate each of the answer choices to determine which one most closely ties to the information in paragraph 4. Evaluate the Answer Choices: Answer Choice (A) captures the essence of this gamble: a society where "justice" allows unequal access to liberty. Therefore, Answer Choice (A) is the correct answer. Choice (B): While this also demonstrates a gamble, the passage discusses that they favor equal personal liberty over everything else, so if only one element was to be unequal, it would not be personal liberty. Choice (C): This is a 180 trap, since this is the safe decision for the group to make. Choice (D): Similar to choice (C), this choice would be a safe decision for the group. Choice (E): This is out-of-scope, since we are never told how the collective feels about the individual versus the aggregate.
4. It can be inferred that the author feels the ideas of John Rawls are relevant today because (A) they represent an assault on an entrenched academic orthodoxy (B) they present, in contrast to utilitarianism, an ethically-based concept of justice (C) they outline a view of justice which results in the maximum possible liberty for all (D) utilitarian ideas have led to social philosophies with which the author disagrees (E) new evidence has strengthened the idea of the social contract
Based on the keywords "It can be inferred", we can tell that this is an Inference question. We will then research the relevant text and use it to evaluate each answer choice individually. Research Relevant Text in the Passage: A quick look at our Passage Map tells us that John Rawl’s ideas are mentioned in paragraph 1. The author highly recommends this work as the "fullest exposition" of "the notion of a social contract". Make a Prediction: Since part of the purpose of the passage is the defend the ideas of the social contract, the author would agree that Rawls’ ideas are relevant today for all of the reasons presented in the passage. We must find the answer choice which best describes this opinion. Evaluate the Answer Choices: Answer Choice (C) makes sense: Rawls has constructed a new social contract from which maximum personal liberty can be logically derived. Considering the utilitarian versions of the old social contract, that’s news, and worth telling us about. Choice (A): The author never suggests either that Rawls’ ideas represent an assault on an entrenched academic orthodoxy. This language is also too extreme, so we can eliminate this choice. Choice (B): This answer assumes too much; the author never says that utilitarianism is not ethnically based – just that Rawls’ idea of justice better corresponds to the American concept of fairness. Choice (D): This answer is incorrect because it is not clear that the author agrees or disagrees with any social philosophy. Choice (E): This answer references "evidence", since no evidence is offered in the passage, just theories.