Sample Ethics Essay Paper on Justice


I believe that the liberal state should play a limited role in marriage policy because of the private nature of the relationship that one has with a loved one. The state does not have a legitimate role or right to limit marriage to two-person, monogamous romantic relationships because such a limitation would infringe on the personal freedoms of individuals and their rights to self-determination in their lives. Despite the issue of choices in marriage involving the subject of morality, the government’s obligation to uphold personal freedoms and rights ought to limit its enforcement of a marriage policy in the society.

One of the highly important theorists in relation to the conception of justice in the society is John Rawls. Identifying liberty and equality as two essential principles of justice, Rawls argued that all individuals in a society have equal rights to fundamental liberties that are inalienable. Advocating for a lexical priority scheme in which rights that are more fundamental override others, the theorist identified certain rights and freedoms as critically fundamental, arguing that the government cannot amend, remove, or violate them in the lives of citizens. Rawls’ argument was that the principles of justice ought to form the primary foundations of basic institutions in the society, including the constitution and its provisions. This implies that the constitution, which is the basis of laws and government policies in a society, ought to guarantee and protect the fundamental liberties. Rawls’ contention is that the foundation of basic institutions on these fundamental liberties underlies the crucial structure of society. Within this structure, people have the freedom to reach decisions that cannot be subject to further evaluations, such that people’s adherence to the rules of a just system ensures the justice of their actions.

I believe that individuals’ choices in marriage represent some of the extremely fundamental rights in the background of Rawls’ argument. Despite being a universal social institution, marriage is a highly private relationship with significant and long-term effects in the personal lives of individuals. Personal choices about the number of partners and the spouse have consequences on the involved parties themselves, rather than the society. This assessment justifies the classification of marriage choices as fundamental liberties that the government should not remove, amend, or violate in citizens’ lives. By developing and enforcing a marriage policy in the society, a liberal state would be denying citizens their rights to the fundamental liberty of self-determination concerning a matter that affects their lives in the long-term. Limitation of marriages to two-person and monogamous relationships would involve denial of justice to citizens in relation to the inalienable liberty to choose the marriage relationship to pursue in life.

One potential ground for such restriction in romantic relationships and marriages would relate to the argument by Jerry Cohen that Rawls’ conceptualization of justice is narrow and impractical in real life. Cohen argues that personal attitudes and decisions often have consequences for the society and opportunities in people’s lives. Cohen argues that justice in the society should incorporate focus beyond just institutions and rules to feature the correct and appropriate ethos and attitudes. This means that justice in the society concerns adherence to the appropriate varieties of attitudes among society members. In such context, Cohen would argue that the government could have the right to intervene and enforce marriage policy that ensures the correct forms of marriage among citizens, rather than allowing them to decide the relationships to pursue freely. Arguing that two-person, monogamous forms of marriage represent the ideal variety of relationships owing to the adverse effects of polygamy on children and rival spouses, besides the likelihood of conflicts over property and relations, proponents of the Cohen school of thought would argue that government intervention to enforce the right kind of ethos in marriage is valid and necessary. In this way, the proponents would contend, citizens and marriage partners would have desirable kinds of attitudes towards each other, without conflicts, thus promoting genuine justice in the society.

This reasoning fails to fulfill the requirements of liberal neutrality because it would involve the government’s promotion of one specific conceptualization of an ideal or morality. Liberal neutrality concerns the government’s treatment of all citizens equally, strict adherence to obligations, and allowance for equality among citizens in political decision-making. By enforcing a specific policy for marriage among society members, the government would be intervening in a matter that is outside its obligations in the society. Such enforcement of marriage policy would also violate liberal neutrality through the liberal state’s failure to treat citizens equally and demonstrate equal and unbiased regard for the diverse conceptions of “good” in the society. Justice in the society requires the government’s treatment of all citizens equally and without discrimination, despite differences in their orientations and conceptualizations. The government’s decision to enforce a marriage policy in the society would portray cultural bias in political decision-making and undermine the equal status of all citizens despite diversity in their conceptions. It would involve the state’s provision of unequal political rights among citizens, especially considering the obligation of government to guarantee equal weighting in political decision making among the different conceptions of citizens.