Brain Food #611

The Veil of Ignorance

Thoughts of the day

In his 1971 book The Theory of Justice, Philosopher John Rawls designed a thought experiment known as ‘the veil of ignorance’. The experiment invites those who choose to participate in it, to try and imagine a new social contract for the world. You have the key to eliminating unfairness, redistributing wealth, power, access to healthcare, to redesign everyone’s rights. 

But, you will have to do this behind a ‘veil of ignorance’, before your own birth, meaning you will not know in what context you will enter this new world: you will not know your sex, your race, your nationality, the town in which you will be born, or the social status of your family.

Without this information at hand, your choices on how you design this new society may either be beneficial or harmful to you, depending on your own situation.

This, of course, is near impossible. That is the purpose of the experiment: to understand that life is a lottery, and to think about “What kind of world would it make sense to live in?” By being stripped of our own privileges, we can begin to consider what unimaginable obstacles others may be facing, and perhaps to appreciate not only how fortunate we may have been, but also how the distribution of fairness in society passes, to an extent, also through us.

“The natural distribution is neither just nor unjust; nor is it unjust that persons are born into society at some particular position. These are simply natural facts. What is just and unjust is the way that institutions deal with these facts.”

From A Theory of Justice