veil of ignorance

Topics: John Rawls, Social contract, Political philosophy Pages: 5 (1674 words) Published: October 9, 2013
Position paper
“Argumentatively discuss the strengths and weaknesses of John Rawls’ ‘Veil of Ignorance’ method”

In John Rawls' A Theory of Justice, he argues that morally, society should be constructed politically as if we were all behind a veil of ignorance; that is, the rules and precepts of society should be constructed as if we had no prior knowledge of our future wealth, talents, and social status, and could be placed in any other person's societal position (Velasquez, 2008). Through this, Rawls believes that people will create a system of “justice as fairness” because their lack of knowledge regarding who they are will prevent them from arranging a society that would benefit those in their position at the expense of others. Rawls’ has designed his theory of the original position as a hypothetical social contract (Freeman, 2012). As we do not live in a well-ordered society that the hypothetical contract is based on, Rawls’ theory and position is flawed and it is an implausible conception of justice. Rawls’ theory of justice and the veil of ignorance cannot be effectively and practically executed in the modern society for several political, economical and sociological variables. Rawls’ defends that the veil of ignorance allows for equality within society, however without knowing the prior characteristics, talents and socioeconomic status of the people at cost, how can the distribution of benefits and burdens be equal and just to all parties? A major weakness of the veil of ignorance is that it does not account for merit or talent, resulting in unfairness and unjustness between parties. Another argument against Rawls’ principles of justice and the veil of ignorance is the opposition to utilitarianism. Rawls’ principles of justice call for the equal distribution of services, property and benefits. In this case, the maximum level of wellbeing in society can be jeopardized. Why prohibit a society from producing as much good as it can? Isn’t it better to have more good rather than less?

To begin, we must clarify what Rawls’ view of justice and the veil of ignorance defines equality as. Velasquez (2008) states that: “In a just society, every person will be given exactly equal shares of that society’s benefits and burdens”. This is known as strict egalitarianism. Rawls stated that justice requires equal shares between the members of society. By distributing benefits and burdens from behind the veil of ignorance there are no relevant differences among people, resulting in an equal distribution. The weakness in this view is that people are not equal, and their inequalities seem to demand an unequal sharing in societies resources (Velasquez, 2008). In society we must take inequalities into account when distributing benefits and burdens. For example if every worker is given the same wage, the harder working and more skilled workers will have no incentive to work hard if it will only get them the same benefits as the unskilled workers who do not put in as much effort. On the other hand, if people are given the same amount of burdens, some will receive more than they can bear while others will not receive enough. Another example as illustrated by Velasquez (2008) to amplify this point is within a classroom context. In the belief that everyone is equal, everyone must be given the same education opportunities. Accordingly, thirty students of widely differing abilities and capabilities may be placed in the same class at the same time with the same instructor. Faced with such essential diversity, teachers often end up aiming their teaching at the ‘average’ students. As likely as not, the instructional level will be too high for the slowest student, and too low for the most skilled and talented. As a result, the slowest don’t learn and the skilled ‘switch off’. Is this just? In light of these examples, the veil of ignorance does not seem to be the best way to distribute benefits and burdens, as it eliminates the...

References: Daniels, N. (1975). Reading Rawls: critical studies on Rawls ' A theory of justice. New
York: Basic Books.
Driver, Julia. (2009) The History of Utilitarianism, The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy Retrieved from: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2009/entries/utilitarianism-history/>.
Freeman, Samuel, (2012) Original Position, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Retrieved from: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2012/entries/original-position/>.
Kukathas, C., & Pettit, P. (1990). Rawls: a theory of justice and its critics. Stanford, Calif.:
Stanford University Press.
Velasquez, M. G. (2008). Social Philosophy. Philosophy: a text with readings (10th ed., pp. 566
583). Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth.
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