John Rawls’ Theory of Justice in Relation to Nursing

In his book, A Theory of Justice, written and published in 1971, John Rawls, an American political and moral philosopher, attempts to resolve the societal distributive justice problem. The prevailing utilitarian argument then was that society should consider numbers in its pursuit of the greatest good. Rawls was opposed to this philosophical argument as it attempted to impose the tyranny of numbers where the majorities reign over the minorities. Therefore, the social justice theory tries to create a social contract approach anchored on a social justice system without any biases. In this approach, Rawls holds that there is a form of agreement within the society.

Rawls’ theory has a liberalism orientation and is the basis through which criminal justice and law enforcement are founded. Hence, the theory aims to achieve a liberal and pluralistic society. The theory has heavily borrowed from social contract theory concepts. Rawls envisages a society where a social contract forms the basis of justice principles. According to Rawls, the concept of justice is based on two ideologies: the concept of the original position and the veil of ignorance. However, Rawls also notes that some bottlenecks are associated with the social contract approach. This is mainly in the realm of equality and fairness in society (Gališanka, 2019). To cure this problem, Rawls proposes a social contract ‘veil of ignorance’ negotiated social contract. In this approach, the participants involved in the negotiation do not know their gender, age, sex, health, race, sexual orientation, education, and other social contract characteristics. Rawls, thus, maintains that justice is mostly threatened by unfairness.

In the first principle, Rawls advocates for equal access to basic liberty for everyone. However, one’s right to equal liberty should not infringe on others. This means that while each person has the right to engage in various activities, it is important to ensure that those activities do not infringe on other people’s rights. In the second principle, Rawls argues that economic and social inequalities should be organized in such a way that they are rationally anticipated to be everyone’s advantage and that they are pegged to offices and positions. This implies that wealth and resources should be equally distributed among members of society. This, however, does not imply that people should receive equal payment but rather receive fair income benefits and equal access to well-paying jobs. Rawls argues that adherence to these principles is the only way social and economic inequalities can be neutralized. The ideologies, thus, ensure equal access to justice by everyone.

Although Rawls did not discuss nursing and the right to health in his theory, there is no doubt that the nursing field is one of the areas where the Theory of Justice can be effectively utilized. This is because nursing entails the delivery of health services to everyone irrespective of their age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and other social characteristics. Nurses play a key role in ensuring that citizens get access to health, which is a fundamental human right. Rawls’ theory of justice attempts to address the issue of fairness when it comes to the distribution of social goods.

Through this theory of justice, Rawls aimed to create an orderly and appropriately administered society. He argued that this can be achieved through fair administration and distribution of social goods. There is a need to focus on fairness when it comes to health provision rather than absolute equity. Rawls’ initial position under the veil of ignorance assumes that people are ignorant about their age, social status, abilities, gender, and other social factors that they either have or lack (Dionigi & Kleidosty, 2017). From this statement, individuals should be ignorant about their status of health as well. The field of nursing occupies an important position in the dispensation of social justice within society.

The relationship between the theory of justice and nursing revolves around the latter’s objective of the achievement of a fair society. To achieve the principle of fair justice, there are two major steps that should be followed. The first step is to deliberate on the appropriate principles of justice that resonate with the needs of society. This should be followed by the preparation of relevant legislation that would constitute the system. According to Rawls, since health requires a heavy constitution of knowledge, it should be handled by individuals who have expertise in the field. Therefore, health-related legislation should be formulated by experts within the justice principle framework. This means that nurses must be adequately involved in the preparation of laws and legislations that regulate the profession to have a just society.

The knowledge of Rawls’ theory can effectively improve my practice as an Executive Leader project. This is because as an Executive Project leader, I sit at the apex of decision-making, a position that requires one to have a deep understanding of the happenings around. Rawls’ theory of social justice can effectively guide institutional and personal decision-making initiatives. A leader must always strive to make decisions that favor everyone. Rawls’ theory of social justice advocates for fairness and treating people without any harm. This theory can be the basis for determining if a proposed action will be moral or not, based on the principle of fairness and equality. As a leader involved in policymaking, it is important to rely on theoretical frameworks for decision-making and designing appropriate policies that will not compromise people’s access to health care. Thus, applying various theoretical frameworks during the development and implementation of policies for the health care sector can have significant effects on access to health care for a patient despite his or her social and economic background.

In conclusion, Rawls theory of social justice was comprehensively developed and grounded on ethical theories that advocated for fair distribution of social goods. The theory’s focal point rests on the idea that the principles of justice will be determined by rational individuals. In the nursing profession, these are nurses who adequately understand the intricacies of their profession and can, thus, take care of the worst off. To achieve this, they must act behind the veil of ignorance, where they lack information about their personal properties. Since nurses are rational ignorant individuals in the health care profession, Rawls urges them to take deliberate steps that favor the worst-off group within the society. However, it must be noted that although Rawls’ theory is touted as one of the most comprehensive, it excludes the health sector, which is a crucial determinant of social justice.


Dionigi, F., & Kleidosty, J. (2017). An analysis of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice. CRC Press.

Gališanka, A. (2019). John Rawls: The path to a theory of justice. Harvard University Press.

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