Happy Birthday, John Rawls!

John Rawls, image via BBC's Will and Testament blog

John Rawls, image via the BBC

Let’s remember and celebrate John Rawls, Feb 21, 1921 – Nov 24, 2002, the great political and moral theorist who thought of justice as fairness, on his birthday.

Among his greatest contributions is the thought experiment called the original position, behind a ‘veil of ignorance’. It’s a beautifully simple tool for picturing what a just society would look like. 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 and at what kind of job or not at all; 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 and circumspect you’d be. Perhaps, as Rawls imagines, we’d all be far better off if that was really how the world works.

Learn more about the great John Rawls:

John Rawls ~ by Leif Wenar for The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

John Rawls ~ by Henry S. Richardson for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

John Rawls: American Philosopher ~ by Brian Duignan for Encyclopædia Britannica

John Rawls and Modern American Liberalism ~ by Garrett Sheldon for Lectures in History

On John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice ~ Nigel Warburton interviews Jonathan Wolff for Philosophy Bites

Philosopher Angie Hobbs on the Veil of Ignorance ~ Angie Hobbs discussion with Leif Wenar, and David Runciman for BBC Radio 4’s A History of Ideas

and my own work featuring Rawls:

Behind the Veil: Rawls, Locke, de Tocqueville, and Human Connection in a Liberal Society

Communitarianism, Writ Large

*A version of this piece was previously published at Ordinary Philosophy

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Any support you can offer will be deeply appreciated!

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