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Reading Notes

Reading philosophical essays is more challenging in that you often have to scan once, read once, and review once before you can adequately explain the author's position. In order to be sure that you are receiving maximum benefit from your time spent studying, try to answer the guide questions posed below. If you cannot answer them, it is time to read or review to be sure you understand the main arguments presented. See more tips here.

Social Justice: John Rawls & Iris Young

John Rawls and Iris Young focused their careers and lives on making a difference using philosophical theory. Both are astute philosophers who wrote about equality, fairness, labor issues and social justice repeatedly throughout their careers. Sadly, both have recently passed away Rawls (2002) and Young (2006). Iris Young was a professor at the University of Pittsburgh for years and her talks on ethics, fairness and labor issues were always standing room only. She ended her career at The University of Chicago.

  1. Resources
  2. Guide Questions
  3. Smartboard Notes

Here are some web sites that will enhance your understanding of this week's reading:

John Rawls:

Here are some web sites that will enhance your understanding of this week's readings:

Iris Young & Labor:



Guide Questions:

The following questions are designed to fine tune your understanding of the reading. The subject matter and answers to these questions form the basis of what you will be required to know for exams.

Objectives for this week: To understand the basic components of John Rawls' theory entitled, "justice as fairness" and Iris Young's position on the relationship between merit pay and social justice in the workplace. After completing the assigned readings, reviewing the resources above and attempting the guide questions below, you should be able to:

  1. explain how the original position and the veil of ignorance work to ensure a fair starting point for ethical debates
  2. describe how the principle of equal liberty, the difference principle and the maxmin solution are used to generate rules considered fair
  3. analyze the Kantian roots in Rawls' theory and generate Rawlsian imperatives using the above principles
  4. describe Young's critique of merit pay and the evaluation process
  5. list the reasons why Young feels merit pay is unworkable with regards to objectivity

Rawls & Young:

Guide Questions:

The following questions are designed to fine tune your understanding of the reading. I will check to see if you've completed them; the subject matter and answers to these questions form the basis of what you will be required to know for exams.

John Rawls - Justice as Fairness

  1. Remember Rawls is concerned primarily with justice insofar as it is employed in social institutions.

  2. What is the "principle of equal liberty?"

  3. How much liberty ought we to be allowed?

  4. Describe the process for evaluating inequalities under the "difference principle." Explain how the maximin solution is employed in judging various alternatives under the difference principle.

  5. What does Rawls mean when he uses the term "mutual self-interest" in regards to particular social group?

  6.  Rawls presents us with a hypothetical group of individuals who have mutual self-interests, rational capabilities and roughly similar needs and interests.

  7. Rawls lays out the process for negotiating new rules and policies. Be sure you understand how the original position and veil of ignorance is employed to arrive at principles that all members of the group will agree to be bound by. 

  8. Rawls makes the claim that one ought to "acknowledge the principles of morality even when to one's disadvantage." Why?

  9. At the close of this essay Rawls explains why we ought to support inequalities that are in accordance with the difference principle. What are his premises in support of this contention? (Hint: this is the discussion of the maximin principle and how it works to create incentive)

Iris Young: The Myth of Merit Pay

  1. Give Young’s definition of merit.

  2. List conditions to make merit pay scales fair. (I have generously provided relevant notes below.)

1. Qualifications should be “defined in terms of technical skills and competence.”

2. To justify pay differentials, the skills listed for a job must be job-related.

3. Each person must be judged on an individual basis rather than pitting individuals against one another in direct competition.(874)

4. The measures against which one is evaluated should be value and culturally neutral.

Why the ideas of merit pay is impossible? (Know these for final.)

1. Most jobs are too complex to have their tasks quantified/measured.

2. In complex offices employees work in teams to produce outcomes/products so it is hard to judge the value of each individual’s contribution.

3. Since workers often have negative tasks (jobs where it is necessary to prevent something from going wrong), it is hard to identify what elements of performance constitute worker productivity.

4. Due to the division of labor , most managers have never performed the work that they are charged to evaluate. Thus they must rely on rating “workers’ attitudes, their compliance with the rules, their self-presentation, their cooperativeness – that is their social comportment.”


Last, Young provides two more reasons why it is hard to evaluate worker performance in professional and managerial positions:

  1. The job activities in these two categories are hard to evaluate and ultimately will depend on a rather subjective judgment against “objectives” that may be impossible/quite difficult to meet.
  2. Clients are often involved in employee evaluations and they usually have less information about the employee’s job than managers in a discontinuous hierarchy.

Her conclusion, economic justice cannot be met through the merit pay system.


Smartboard Notes from Week 13 Lectures:








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