Discussion Questions on Rawls, "Two Concepts of Rules"


1. Rawls begins by saying that he wants to show how important it is to distinguish between "justifying a practice and justifying a particular action falling under it."  Give some examples of justifying practices and some examples of justifying actions falling under those practices.  Do you think Rawls is right to believe that the distinction is an important one?

2.  What's the difference between asking "Why was Timothy McVeigh executed?" and asking "Why are murderers executed?"  How should the answers to these questions differ?

3.  How do the positions of the judge and the legislator differ?   Is the question that we are asking in this class, "Is capital punishment morally permissible?" a question for the judge or for the legislator?

4.  In one sense of "deserve," utilitarians agree that criminals should get the punishments they deserve and only the punishments they deserve.  What is this sense of "deserve"?  Does this sense of "deserve" capture what retributivists mean when they say that criminals should get the punishments they deserve?  If not, what other meaning of "deserve" is there.

5.  Rawls writes, "It [the utilitarian account of punishment] seeks to dissuade us from assigning to penal institutions the improper, if not sacrilegious, task of matching suffering with moral turpitude."  What does he mean?  Do retributivist views assign this task to penal institutions?

6.  A retributivist might criticize utilitarianism for permitting "punishment" in circumstances when punishment is impermissible.  How does this criticism go?  What response does Rawls offer to it?

7.  Why would a utilitarian reject an institution of telishment?