Rawls Veil Of Ignorance Essay

A Theory of Justice Presented by John Rawls Essays

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In A Theory of Justice John Rawls presents his argument for justice and inequality. Rawls theorizes that in the original position, a hypothetical state where people reason without bias, they would agree to live in a society based on two principles of justice (Rawls 1971, 4). These two principles of justice are named the first and second principles. The first is the equal rights and liberties principle. The second is a combination of the difference principle and the fair equality of opportunity principle, or FEOP (Rawls 1971, 53). Rawls argues that inequality will always be inevitable in any society (Rawls 1971, 7). For example, there will always be a varied distribution of social and economic advantages. Some people will be wealthier than…show more content…

Furthermore, they have no concept of social standing or economic standing. The individuals are just capable of reasoning and possess the goal of creating a just society (Rawls 1971, 17). The purpose of the veil is to allow those in the original position to agree on rules pertaining to their own mutual interests. Rawls thinks that behind the veil of ignorance, free of bias with rational thought, the individuals would agree to a society governed by his two principles of justice (Rawls 1971, 53). Individuals would agree to these principles because it would be the only way to ensure a fair initial status quo in society (Rawls 1971, 53). This is important because it allows for justified inequalities later that will be regulated instead of unjust inequalities. No one would want to make things unequal from the start because they have no way of knowing their actual place in society behind the veil (Rawls 1971, 11). For example, if someone suggested that all UCR students get free tuition at the cost of students at other universities footing the bill, it would be within the individuals best interest to disagree because he has no way of knowing if he is a UCR student in the society or one of the other university students that now have to pay more. The idea of the original position is that a just society would be fair and equal, and individuals behind the veil of ignorance would agree on Rawls’ two principles of justice to make it so. Rawls’s first principle

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Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance

Rawls assumes that behind the veil of ignorance one would select the best decision that adheres to the two principals of justice. However, the lack of knowledge provided behind the veil of ignorance seems to do more harm than good to the decision maker. For example, if one behind the veil were to choose their economic system for their society; they might have a hard time selecting between a free market or socialized economy based off of simple facts.  Though both have been practiced in reality it is not entirely possible to truly understand which competing scenario works the best for all participants given the amount of sample time and other factors that have influenced economics for the past 100 years. Therefore, from a rawlsian perspective one would not know which system provides the better benefits least advantaged. Behind the veil of ignorance one would only know the general facts about the world that they are entering, and even the restriction on the lack of knowledge of one’s personal place with in the system would not do much to solve the problem without more concise data, which is prohibited behind the veil. The lack of specific data handicaps the decision maker behind the veil of ignorance, potentially leading them to selecting the least right decision for their society. Even with reflective equilibrium this would allow decision makers unknowingly break the second principal of justice, thus unraveling his argument, as to truly understand the effects of many policies would take many years to recognize.  

Rawls’ uses the constraints in the veil of ignorance to allow the decision maker to view the world free of frills and biases, and come to a conclusion based off of the sparse facts presented. In section 24 of A Theory of Justice Rawls lists what we know and what we would not know behind the veil. He restricts the decision maker to knowing: general facts, political affairs of society, and all general laws and theories. I assume Rawls does this in order to ensure one would not lose focus and immediately come to a utilitarian conclusion of selecting a society that provides the greatest utility to the majority, along with removing the bias of the decision maker. Utilitarianism does not fit with Rawls’ notion of justice. However, by knee capping utilitarianism he hinders his own position by restricting the person in the original position to sparse data. The four stage sequence proposed by Rawls may help unburden the decision maker throughout the decision process, but it does not provide the specific data about the society until the very final stage, which at that point would be useless as the participants are already locked in to their agreed upon policies. Ayn Rand in Chapter 11 of “Philosophy: Who Needs It.” States that you cannot make rational choices based on ignorance. Inferring that rationality and knowledge are tied together, and that the veil of ignorance separates this natural pair leaving both without each other relatively useless.  Thus the little information that is given behind the veil of ignorance would lead the decision maker to a less informed decision, and ultimately a less optimal one. This would go against Rawls’ implied desire for a utopia as it would not be the most optimal world.


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