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Richard J. Arneson May, 1999 The problem of social justice can arise in the absence of social interaction. This point emerges directly from an important passage in John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice where he is arguing for an opposed conclusion. Rawls argues that the primary subject of justice is the basic structure of society, the way that major social institutions work together to “determine the division of advantages from social cooperation.” He writes, “The basic structure is the primary subject of justice because its effects are so profound and present from the start. The intuitive notion here is that this structure contains various social positions and that men born into different positions have different expectations of life determined, in part, by the political system as well as by economic and social circumstances. In this way the institutions of society favor certain starting places over others. These are especially deep inequalities. Not only are they pervasive, but they affect men’s initial chances in life; yet they cannot possibly be justified by an appeal to the notions of merit or desert.”1 This passage contrasts deep and shallow social inequalities and associates deep inequalities with the basic structure of society. Deep social inequalities are inequalities in people’s initial life prospects that are imposed on them in ways that are entirely beyond their power to control. We might think here of inequalities in life prospects among children born into different places in the social hierarchy of wealth and status. In contrast, shallow inequalities might be conceived as ones that arise among people who are equal in life chances initially but then choose to behave in ways that render them differentially meritorious or deserving and that also render them unequal in subsequent..
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