A Hypothetical Agreement in an Original Position of Equality

The most controversial part of Rawls` theory of justice focused on its principle of difference, the idea that the greatest benefit should go to the weakest beneficiaries. Conservatives and critics of the free market have argued that it is unfair to take what they deserve from the most advantaged and redistribute it to the less fortunate. They also argued that explanations of how people access more or less privileged positions are relevant to fairness. For example, some people gain a higher level of material goods because of their hard work or contribution to society. Rawls relies on Maximin`s choice rule to argue against the utility principle. Since both the maximin rule and the difference principle require the maximization of the minimum position, it seems natural to assume that the maximine choice rule leads directly to the choice of the difference principle in the original position. Although Rawls was able to express this impression in theory (§ 26), he would later say that the maximine rule alone cannot be used to justify the principle of difference (JF, 43n, 94-95). Indeed, if one compares the principle of difference with the ”mixed notions” of economic justice which protect fundamental freedoms and provide for a form of equality of opportunity and a social minimum, then the third condition for the application of Maximin is not fulfilled (see above, section VI, A). The third condition of the Maximin Rule implies that there can be only one acceptable alternative to the election. If there is a second alternative, with the consequences of which rational people can live and accept, if they find themselves in the least favored position (for example, it protects fundamental freedoms and opportunities and guarantees a social safety net), then the Maximin rule is not a rule of rational decision-making. Because there is then no probability of serious risks to one`s own future prospects. Rawls` original position, with his ”thick” veil of ignorance, represents a different conception of impartiality than the utilitarian requirement that the desires of all be equally taken into account.

The original position ignores all information about current circumstances and the status quo, including the wishes and special interests of all. Utilitarians take people`s desires and interests for granted and try to maximize their satisfaction; In this way, utilitarians prevail over the judgment on the moral admissibility of people`s desires and preferences and on the social circumstances and institutions in which desires and preferences are formed. For Rawls, one of the main reasons for a thick veil of ignorance is to allow an impartial assessment of the justice of existing social and political institutions and of existing desires, preferences, and notions of goodness. If the parties to Rawls` original position had knowledge of people`s beliefs and desires, as well as knowledge of the laws, institutions, and circumstances of their society, then that knowledge would influence their decisions on the principles of justice. The agreed principles would then not be sufficiently detached from the wishes, circumstances and institutions that must critically evaluate those principles. Since utilitarians view people`s desires and preferences as in the given circumstances, any principles, laws, or institutions chosen behind their thin veil of ignorance will reflect and be biased by the status quo. To take an obvious counter-example, there is little or no justice in laws passed from a utilitarian and impartial point of view when those laws take into account racially biased preferences cultivated by grossly unequal, racially discriminatory and segregated social conditions. The impartial consideration of all the desires that have arisen under such unjust conditions is hardly sufficient to meet the requirements of justice.

This illustrates some of the reasons for a ”thick” veil as opposed to a ”thin” veil of ignorance. Rawls says that in the initial position, ”the reasonable frames the rational” (CP 319). He believes that the OP is a situation in which the rational decision of the parties is subject to reasonable (or moral) restrictions. In what sense are the parties, their choice and their agreement rational? Philosophers have different conceptions of practical rationality. Rawls attempts to incorporate a relatively uncontroversial account of rationality into the original position, a narrative that most reports of practical rationality would endorse as necessary, at least for rational decisions. The parts are then described as rational in a formal or ”thin” sense characteristic of rational and social choice theories. They are resourceful, use effective means for their goals, and try to make their preferences consistent. They also take the approach that is most likely to achieve their goals (other things are the same). And they choose action options that serve more than less of their goals. Rawls calls these principles of rational choice the ”principles of counting” (TJ Sect. . .

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