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Rawl's Primary Goods


Explanations > Needs > Rawl's Primary Goods

Natural primary goods | Social primary goods |  So what?


John Rawls is an American philosopher who identified 'primary goods' as basic needs of the 'things that every rational man is presumed to want'. In particular, he proposes that these should be seriously considered in any legal situation whereby the legal system should accept these primary goods as a given aspect of natural justice. His aim is that principles of justice are concerned with the basic structure of society as 'the way in which the main political and social institutions of society fit together into one system of social cooperation'. He sees this social cooperation being free and equal, with people who have 'moral powers', being capacities for a sense of justice and a conception of the good.

Natural primary goods

These are basic mental and bodily abilities, including health, strength, intelligence, memory, creativity and so on.

Social primary goods

Liberty and opportunity

Everyone has the same right to basic liberties and opportunities. This includes:

  • Freedom of thought and liberty of conscience: To be able to think what ever you will, and being allowed to speak and act according to your morals and conscience.
  • Political liberties and freedom of association: To be able to belong to any political association.
  • The rights and liberties covered by the rule of law: The law applies equally to all people.
  • Freedom of movement: Being able to go where we want, without restriction.
  • Free choice of occupation: Having equal opportunities in careers.

Income and wealth

Social and economic systems should be arranged such that people are able to earn and hold according to their talents and also that those who are not able in some way are not forced into poverty.

In other words, people feel that what they have is fair.

Bases of self-respect

These are all things that lead to people having a sense of worth and are able to reach towards their goals with self-confidence.

So what?

When considering needs, think in terms of justice and what may be accepted in a courtroom as a natural and reasonable human need.

Another great source for this is the general area of Human Rights, including specific Acts about it, including the broad area of Equality.

See also

Rawls, J. (1971). A Theory of Justice, Harvard: Belknap Press


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