July 09, 2006

The veil of ignorance

Rawls developed his ideas on justice in scholarly articles in the 1950s and 1960s. The publication of A Theory of Justice in 1971 was the culmination of this work. The book received widespread praise for its application of analytic techniques to the substantive (rather than the methodological) issues in morality.
Rawls's theory of justice is premised on two fundamental principles of justice that, he believes, would 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 to everyone's advantage and open to all. A central concern for Rawls is to show how such principles would be universally adopted. Working from these principles, Rawls develops in detail a simple but powerful idea that he calls "justice as fairness."
This idea proposes that the rules of a group are fair to the extent that a person would agree to be bound by them when ignorant ("the veil of ignorance") of his own possession of characteristics that the rules of the system reward or penalize. In this "original position," a person would not agree to unfair rules because there would be the possibility that she would be disadvantaged by them. Thus, the original position forces a person to make moral conclusions and to adopt a generalized point of view in making a social contract. Rawls published Political Liberalism in 1993. Legal Encyclopedia

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