Happy Birthday, John Rawls!

John Rawls, image via BBC's Will and Testament blogJohn Rawls, Feb 21, 1921 – Nov 24, 2002, is the great moral theorist who thinks of justice as fairness.

Among his greatest contributions is the thought experiment called ‘the veil of ignorance’. It’s a beautifully simple method for helping to design a just society: imagine you’re to be placed into society with no idea what you would be: rich, poor, or middle-class; tall or short; intelligent or not; of which gender; outgoing or shy; of which race; employed or not and at what kind of job; and so on.

Given that you have no idea what your roles in life will be, what cultural practices, laws, policies, governmental system, economic system, and so on, would you put into place? Remember, behind that veil of ignorance, you’ll have to decide what kind of society benefits everyone the most, since you could end up being anyone. If you were really in that situation, imagine just how fair you’d be. Perhaps, as Rawls imagines, we’d all be far better off if that was really how the world works.

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Further reading:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: John Rawls

John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (book preview)

Ordinary Philosophy pieces featuring John Rawls:

Communitarianism, Writ Large

Sources, Influences, Shout-Outs, and all that Good Stuff

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