For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The structure of a Rawlsian theory of just work"

by Lindblom, Lars (2011)


This article outlines the structure of a Rawlsian theory of justice in the employment relationship. A focus on this theory is motivated by the role it plays in debates in business ethics. The Rawlsian theory answers three central questions about justice and the workplace. What is the relationship between social justice and justice at work? How should we conceive of the problem of justice in the economic sphere? And, what is justice in the workplace? To see fully what demands justice makes on the workplace, we should first spell out the implications that domestic justice has for working conditions. When this is done, we can develop a conception of workplace justice and investigate what content such local justice should have. John Rawls’s political liberalism was constructed for the specific problem of a just basic structure; in order to apply it to another problem the key theoretical concepts must be revised. Reasons for a specific construction of a local original position are given and arguments are presented in support of a principle of local justice, which takes the form of a choice egalitarian local difference principle.

Key Passage

At work, we must also try to get along even though we disagree on what is most important. There is the recurrent conflict of interests between employers and employees, and there are conflicts between our normative ideas and theories of work as well. We would like work to afford an opportunity for self-realization, we want it to be healthy and safe, we want it to provide us with money and some sort of well-being and we want certain rights in the workplace. The goal of excellence at work in Aristotelian theory and ideas in the health and safety field could come into conflict over whether self-realization or safety should take precedence. Efficiency and rights may also come into conflict.24 Taking into account that about half of employees in the West work for companies with more than 250 employees, and that about half of the world’s largest economies are corporations, it seems that that the problem of different values may appear often.25 It seems as true for the sphere of work as for the political sphere that, as Rawls puts it: ‘‘[a]s a practical political matter no general moral conception can provide a publicly recognized basis for a conception of justice in a modern democratic state’’ (Rawls, 1985, p. 225). This suggests that we should investigate whether we could use related ideas, such as those of free and equal co-workers and of the firm as a fair system of cooperation, in developing an account of workplace justice. (p.582)


Rawls, Justice, Theory Of Justice, Liberalism, Political Economics


On Rawls

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