The Original Position and the Veil of Ignorance
Political philosopher John Rawls believed that in order for society to function properly, there needs to be a social contract, which defines ‘justice as fairness’. Rawls believed that the social contract be created from an original position in which everyone decides on the rules for society behind a veil of ignorance. In this essay, it will be argued that the veil of ignorance is an important feature of the original position. First, the essay will describe what the veil of ignorance is. Secondly, it will look at what Rawls means by the original position. Thirdly, it will look at why the veil of ignorance is an important feature of the original position. Finally, the essay will present a criticism to the veil of ignorance and the original position and Rawls’ potential response to this.
What is The Veil of Ignorance?
Rawls’ primary goal in designing the original position is to describe a situation that he believes would achieve the most extensive liberty and fairness possible to all the parties involved in his hypothetical social contract (Rawls, 1971). Rawls believes that in order to achieve this level of fairness, it must be assumed that the parties involved are situated behind a ‘veil of ignorance’ (Rawls, 1971). This veil of ignorance deprives all of the parties of all knowledge of arbitrary facts about themselves, about other citizens, from influencing the agreement among the representatives (Rawls, 1971). For example, “no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like.” (Rawls, 1971, 137) Rawls argues that if rational people found themselves in this position, they would all agree to a social contract where an equal distribution of liberties and social goods was possible (Rawls, 1971).
While the parties are unaware of particular facts about the people they represent and have no particular knowledge of the society they are part of, they are not completely ignorant of general facts about the social sciences. The point of not allowing the parties to know specific facts is that their judgments would become biased and insufficiently impartial (Rawls, 1971). This way, the party members must be prepared to “choose principles the consequences of which they are prepared to live whatever.” (Rawls, 1971, 137) Therefore, no party can press the other representatives for an agreement on principles that will arbitrarily favor the particular citizen they represent, because no party knows the specific attributes of the citizen they represent (Rawls, 1971).
The veil of ignorance is designed to deprive the parties of all facts about citizens that are irrelevant to the choice of principles of justice so that develop the principles fairly and equally (Rawls, 1971).
What is The Original Position?
In attempting to create a social contract that was free from...