What is the veil of ignorance?

What is the Veil of Ignorance?

Jeppe von Platz (2017)

This paper discusses philosopher John Rawls’ theory of the veil of ignorance, which is an answer to the question: What is the best conception of justice for a democratic society? A way in which Rawls attempts to answer this question is through the thought experiment the original position, which models the beliefs and hopes we have when we consider justice for a democratic society.

The inspiration for the original position came from the social contract tradition, which states that the obligating power of any political authority stems from the will of those who are subject to it. The social contract tradition touches on two significant aspects of Western moral philosophy, the first being the principle that no person has natural authority over another. As such, any interpersonal coercion is only excusable if the coerced agree with the reasoning behind it. The second aspect is that voluntary consent to an agreement creates new rights and obligations. Putting these aspects together, we are left with the idea that all political authority must be generated by people coming together in a social contract, in which they create and respect the legislations that are enforced of behalf of all.

The veil of ignorance defines the knowledge of parties, and shields them from knowledge that then can use to favoura particular member of society. Essentially, it allows for a sense of impartiality that is needed to maintain commitments to fairness and equal citizenship.  To ensure this impartiality, the veil of ignorance shields parties from knowledge of the people they represent including: gender, race, religious beliefs, wealth, and other similar factors. 

Jeppe von Platz makes it clear that although the veil of ignorance may work in theory, it’s not something that can be applied practically. Instead, the veil of ignorance (which is observed through the original position) is simply a device that sorts conceptions of justice according to how well they fit the ideas of a democratic society.

Summary written by Heather Addae

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