According to Rawls, the worst-off subgroup of the population should be identified by its low endowment of “primary goods”. Since primary goods are multi-dimensional, he proposed constructing a synthetic index. But there seems to be a dilemma with respect to such an index. Either it is unique, and then individual preferences about the various primary goods are disregarded, while the index reflects a perfectionist view of the good life. Or it respects individual preferences, but in that case Rawls’ theory seems to fall prey to the classical problems of welfarism. This paper shows that the synthetic index of primary goods can respect individual preferences without being merely a measure of subjective utility. The precise form of the index depends on ethical principles about how to share resources. In addition, this approach offers a new justifica
The most serious charge against a theory of justice concerned with equality is to accuse it of resting on normative principles which express inegalitarian sentiments. A common criticism of Rawls’s list of primary goods in A Theory of Justice is that it fails in precisely this way. Nagel complains that Rawls’s theory presupposes a liberal bias in its premisses which is reflected in the conception of primary goods to be distributed. The aim of this paper is to explore the Rawlsian response to this critique and thereby to explain the import of the shift from comprehensive to political liberalism. Where many commentators have seen this shift in Rawls’s theory as a retreat in the face of multiculturalism and the fragmentation of value, it is more accurate to see the shift as underscoring the original liberal intentions of paying due respect to individuals and individual differences. Political liberalism sets out from the reasons that we can all share, regardless of our particular conceptions of the good life, in order to construct a common framework of justice within which all can thrive. It thus seeks to reconcile the attractions of egalitarianism with proper respect for persons by making the root egalitarian concern equal regard of all people in the demand to justify principles of justice.