The veil of ignorance
‘A just society is a society that if you knew everything about it, you’d be willing to enter it in a random place.’John Rawls
‘Among the essential features of this situation is that no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does any one know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities.’John Rawls, A Theory of Justice
A motivation to action
We are obviously not all born equal. Nor can society make everyone equal. Some inequalities are inevitable. Of course, some can also be desirable. Few people would want to eliminate those inequalities and differences that provide the rich variety in human personalities and talents. However, humanists believe we can and should work to remove those inequalities of opportunity that can be removed by social reform or action. We should work to eliminate unfair inequality where we can. Inequalities of opportunity stand in the way of overall human welfare and progress.The thought experiment is not therefore just an interesting philosophical exercise for humanists. It can also be a call to action. For humanists, there is no divine justice. There is no other life in which to rectify the injustices suffered in this life. That is part of their motivation to work for a more just society in the here and now. If we recognise that the world is such that we would not be happy to be in the position in which other human beings find themselves, then we should seek to change it.Questions: Do you think the veil of ignorance is a helpful way to think about how best to organise society? If you found yourself behind the veil of ignorance what would you want society to be like?‘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.’John Rawls, A Theory of Justice
Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life, with Sandi Toksvig
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