Rawls’ View of Ignorance
Rawls theory of justice revolves around the adaptation of two
fundamental principles of justice which would, in turn, guarantee a just and
morally acceptable society. The first principle guarantees the right of each
person to have the most extensive basic liberty compatible with the liberty of
others. The second principle states that social and economic positions are to be
a) to everyone’s advantage and b) open to all.
A key problem to Rawls is to show how such principles would be
universally adopted and here the work borders on general ethical issues.He
introduces a theoretical “veil of ignorance” in which all the “players” in the
social game would be placed in a situation which is called the “original
position”. Having only a general knowledge of the facts of”life and society”,
each player is to abide based on their moral obligation. By denying the players
any specific information about themselves it forces them to adopt a generalized
point of view that bears a strong resemblance to the moral point of view.
“Moral conclusions can be reached without abandoning the prudential
standpoint of positing,a moral outlook merely by pursuing one’s own prudential
reasoning under certain procedural bargaining and knowledge constraints.”
Rawls proposes that the most reasonable principles of justice for a
society are those that individuals would themselves agree to behind the “veil of
ignorance”, in circumstances in which each is represented as a moral person,
endowed with the basic moral powers. What this position supports is that while
each person has different ends and goals, different backgrounds and talents,
each ought to have a fair chance to develop his or her talents and to pursue
those goals – fair equality for opportunity. It is not a race or contest where
the talented or gifted prevail, it should be complete cooperation among all so
that there may be reasonable life for all.
What the “veil of ignorance”brings out is that we can accept
utilitarianism as a public conception of justice only if we are prepared to let
someone be subject to conditions we would not be prepared to subject ourselves.
However, it is not the responsibility of my actions to ensure the fulfillment of
another persons goals. These principles create an equal distribution of the
“pie”, if you will, yet it is not attainable unless pursued or strived for.
There is no room for idle observation, meaning, that while we all possess equal
opportunity as we all are equally moral persons, the choice of what you wish to
possess materially as well as intellectually is the discretion and capability of
Why should we accept these principles as principles of justice?
Primarily, these principles promote equality among all. Each individual has the
same basic liberties and opportunities. Each individual has a moral obligation
to accept the existence of every other human being. In doing so, all people
become equal in their position and desires. We are equal in that each has the
basic powers of choice and on acting on a sense of justice. The responsibility
of procedure and growth relies on each and every individual his/her self. By
doing so we may create a level playing field. Is this a form of pure
competition? It would seem so. Competition in that what is desired must be
achieved by one and desired by many perhaps. A benefit of competitive
circumstance is the betterment of all parties involved as they must evolve in
order to surpass one another .
Also,in fair equality for opportunity we may eliminate all forms of
discrimination and discretion of races, ethnic origin, social standards and
religious intolerance and beliefs. All of these characteristics are a component
of the individual person thus making him/her “individual”. Justice is only
succumbed when the liberties of an individual are affected because of an
external opinion of these characteristics, and, in the oppression of these
characteristics upon another. They are nothing more than components of a people.
With the “veil of ignorance” we exempt our responsibility for caring for
that of which we do not know. If we don’t see something physically everyday
should it be an not be a concern or an aspect of our own life? If this were so,
could it not be possible that some things could be ignored by all? The word
ignorance scares me since I am ignorant of many things yet in growth I hope to
become less ignorant through education. Is it only then that I understand
certain circumstances yet since I am not affected personally than I should
continue to ignore. This, it would seem, would then rely on my moral truth or
obligation, yet I will be the one to ultimately decide, this being the
responsibility of all. Can we place that much faith in the moral responsibility
of human kind. It sounds great theoretically yet in practice it almost appears
that this would create more alienation than is present today.Would we become
the exact opposite of what is desired, a selfish and careless society? There
must be caution in placing so much responsibility on moral obligation.