What is the importance of the ‘veil of ignorance’ in Rawls’ theory of justice? Is his use of this device persuasive?

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  What is the importance of the ‘veil of ignorance’ in Rawls’ theory of justice? Is his use of this device persuasive?Despite Wolff branding the veil of ignorance (I! as "problem#laden"$ %  the centrality of the device deduces various importances within Rawls" theory of distributive justice& 'he application of the I lay the very foundations of the srcinal position ()! which arguably leads one to the acceptance of two principles of justice& *owever the persuasiveness of the I is$ as suggested$ much debated& +riticism is proposed by scholars such as Will ,ymlic-a$ who directly attac-s Rawls" disregard of natural ine.ualities in determining the worst#off& /  *owever Rawls always argues that his theory is hypothetical$ an abstract concept& 'hough not a solution$ it is a practical proposition which arises scholarly discussion over its usefulness as a blueprint for a justice system and potentially a new social structure& 0   1  'hus I will e2plain the importance of the I$ first broadly$ and then specifically with regards to the difference principle$ and following that its importance in allowing reflections upon intuitions and the nature of justice& I will conclude that despite minor criticisms of the I it still remains fundamental to Rawls theory of justice and persuasive as a device& "3mong the essential features of 4 5the veil of ignorance6 is that no one -nows his place in society$ his class position or social status$ nor does any one -now his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities$ his intelligence$ strength$ and the li-e 4 5nor6 their conceptions of the good"&  7 +onsidering Rawls" device broadly within  A Theory of Justice,  the I is of indispensable value& It "ensures that no one is advantaged or disadvantaged in the choice of principles by 4 natural chance or 4 social circumstances"& 8  ,ymlic-a describes the I as "an intuitive test of fairness"&  9  When united with rational self#interest in securing (social! primary goods: mutual dis#interest and rationality$ the I forms the basis of Rawls" )$ based on "symmetry of everyone"s relations"& ;  'herefore$ the initial situation which leads to conceptions of justice which are founded thereafter$ are reasoned behind the I$ proving its broad importance within Rawls" theory& <urthering$ Rawls" srcinality is proven by his viewpoint that "justice is the first virtue of social institutions"$ =  showing star- differences to other social contract theorists such as *obbes$ who argues institutions are built upon security& 'hus Rawls promotes a new approach within contractarianism& %> Rawls therefore argues that the I is of fundamental importance to the conception of "justice as fairness"$ %%  as social structures that are chosen by parties are justified by the fact that they"ve %  Wolff$ Robert& Understanding Rawls ()rinceton niversity )ress$ %=99! page 79 /  ,ymlic-a$ Will& Contemporary Political Philosophy (2ford niversity )ress$ />>/! page 9/ 0  @ee$ +hungsoo A&  Lecture on John Rawls (Widener niversity$ Bovember />>9! 1   Davidov$ Cuy and @angille$ rian& The Idea of Labour Law (2ford niversity )ress$ />%%! page %17 7  Rawls$ Aohn&  A Theory of Justice (2ford niversity )ress$ %=9%! page %/ 8  Ibid 9  ,ymlic-a$ Will& Contemporary Political Philosophy (2ford niversity )ress$ />>/! page 80 ;  Rawls$ Aohn&  A Theory of Justice (2ford niversity )ress$ %=9%! page %/ =  Eolomon$ Robert et al&  orality and the !ood Life (FcCraw *ill$ />>1! page 17/ %>  Bewey$ Clen&  Routledge Philosophy !uide"oo# to $obbes and Le%iathan (Routledge$ />>;! page 7/ %%  Rawls$ Aohn&  A Theory of Justice (2ford niversity )ress$ %=9%! page %/  %  What is the importance of the ‘veil of ignorance’ in Rawls’ theory of justice? Is his use of this device persuasive?derived from the two principles of justice that are accepted from the )$ the position of rationality and mutual dis#interest whilst behind the I&*owever the persuasiveness of such a proposition is undermined by much criticism& )erhaps due to its hypothetically abstract basis founded upon an artificial state of nature$ differing from *obbes and @oc-e who argued formation of society from a state of nature derived from natural law& +entral to criticism of the device is Robert 'aylor who argued that Rawlsian constructivism cannot retain a language of autonomy when its procedure is manifested in ,antian heteronomous theory& %/  )ut simply$ 'aylor argued that by putting yourself behind a hypothetical veil you are giving yourself up to an e2ternal force& 'his suggests that the I is founded upon the subjection of the individual rather than self#interest for primary goods as the ) argues& 'hus 'aylor see-s to nullify Rawls" initial situation on which to build the social structure& *owever Rawls refutes such criticisms by amending the fundamental values of the ) from rationality and self#interest within  A Theory of Justice to reasonableness and the desire to meet agreement within his %==0 wor-s  Political Liberalism $ modelling common ideas within a democratic societyG "It see-s to show that only a specific set of principles is compatible with the fundamental ideas implicit in a democratic society mar-ed by the fact of reasonable pluralism&" %0  'hus the importance of the I in it"s centrality to Rawls" theory of justice holds$ whilst showing adaptation to criticism&"'he srcinal position represents a hypothetical situation in which the principles of justice are to be chosen in an initial situation of e.uality 4 under what Rawls calls the veil of ignorance"& %1  $ +onsidering more specifics$ Rawls H as stated H argues that within the srcinal position two -ey  principles will be desired as the basis to distributive justiceG "the first re.uires e.uality in the assignment of basic rights and duties" %7  and is the less controversial of the two principles$ as it is widely accepted that within the ) rationality would lead to such desires& 'he second principle  proposes social and economic ine.uality arrangement to be a&! to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged and b&! attached to all offices and positions that are open to all under fair conditions of e.uality of opportunity&  %8  'he importance of the I in regards to Rawls" two principles is that it causes people to desire in particular$ principle /a&! or the difference principle$ under which wealth diffuses up&'his theory is supported largely by the ma2imin rule$ which argues both importance of the %/  'aylor$ Robert E&  Reconstructing Rawls& The 'antian (oundations of Justice as (airness ()ennsylvania Etate niversity )ress$ />%%! page 08 %0  Rawls$ Aohn&  Political Liberalism (+olumbia niversity )ress$ %==0! pages //#/= %1  Etrasnic-$ Eteven& )ocial Choice and the *eri%ation of Rawls+s *ifference Principle in The Journal of Philosophy (olume 90$ Issue 1$ %=98! page ;9 %7  Rawls$ Aohn&  A Theory of Justice (2ford niversity )ress$ %=9%! page %1 %8  Ibid$ page %7  /  What is the importance of the ‘veil of ignorance’ in Rawls’ theory of justice? Is his use of this device persuasive?I and gives it legitimate ground& 'he ma2imin rule$ which Rawls calls a heuristic device$ %9  argues that given lac- of -nowledge behind the I$ probabilities regarding natural endowments and  position within society cannot be discovered before accepting the two principles of justice& 'herefore in trying to decide upon guiding principles of justice$ it is arguable to desire /a&! (rather than for arguments sa-e the greatest benefit to the most advantage! as the I eclipses you of all sense of values leaving you no grounds to gamble or guess your natural endowments and social status when choosing principles of justice& 'hus in accepting the worst off as the beneficiaries$ you are being rational in choosing the best worst outcome which Rawls calls "the guaranteeable level"& %;  'his also highlights Rawls" opposition to utilitarianism$ which would entail "lesser life prospects for some simply for the sa-e of a greater sum of advantages enjoyed by others 4 5utilitarianism6 appears to be inconsistent with the idea of reciprocity implicit in the notion of a well#ordered society&" %= With Rawls" third form of the model in mind$ Etrasnic- believes the I is a persuasive device$ arguing that the two principles of distributive justice$ are naturally progressed to from the )G "the difference principle is strongly egalitarian$ a fact which is consistent with 4 the nature of the srcinal position$ 4 understandable since we have argued that all individuals must have the same claim to primary goods in an initial situation of e.uality"& />  .ual claim to primary goods is argued to justify entering the ) due to "no individual 4 5having6 a valid moral 4 entitlement in the initial situation of e.uality"$  /%  implicitly referring to the I& BoJic- summarisesG "imagine a social pie somehow appearing so that no one  has any claim at all on any portion of it$ no one has any more of a claim than any other person"&  //  Etrasnic- continues "connecting the notion of the srcinal position with the difference principle is the nature of the )riority )rinciple" /0  which argues "social preference must be indifferent" /1  under the )$ thus leading to parties within the ) to accept the difference principle and thus the two principles of justice&*owever$ Wolff is not persuaded$ believing the two principles of justice would not be chosen by individuals within the srcinal position for two -ey reasons& <irstly$ without specification on "how much the veil of ignorance obscures and how much it leaves available to the occupants of the srcinal position$ we shall be unable to deduce anything at all about their reasoning processes&" %9  Rawls$ Aohn&  Justice as (airness& A Restatement (*arvard niversity )ress$ />>%! page == %;  Ibid$ page =; %=  Rawls$ Aohn&  A Theory of Justice (2ford niversity )ress$ %=9%! page %1 />  Etrasnic-$ Eteven& )ocial Choice and the *eri%ation of Rawls+s *ifference Principle in The Journal of Philosophy (olume 90$ Issue 1$ %=98! page =; /%  Ibid$ page ;; //  Donagan$ 3lan& The Philosophical Papers of Alan *onagan, olume -& Action, Reason, and alue  (niversity of +hicago )ress$ %==1! page %/= /0  Etrasnic-$ Eteven& )ocial Choice and the *eri%ation of Rawls+s *ifference Principle in The Journal of Philosophy (olume 90$ Issue 1$ %=98! page =; /1  Ibid  0  What is the importance of the ‘veil of ignorance’ in Rawls’ theory of justice? Is his use of this device persuasive? /7  Eecondly$ is that the rational self#interest whilst behind the I within the ) has been given no characterisations by Rawls$ whether their interests and purposes are shaped by their value of the mind over the body& 'hus$ for Wolff$ "in the bargaining 5game6 that is to determine the choice of the constructive principles for the evaluation of social practices$ it is hard to see how the players will reason so long as they are totally ignorant of every substantive fact of their desires and purposes&" /8  Despite Rawls updating his ) since Wolff"s %=99 claim$ I believe this opposition to still have ground$ as it focuses on what parties attribute as valuable$ which would undoubtedly affect their reasonableness and desire to see- agreement with similar or different parties&'his argument based around whether or not parties within the ) would choose Rawls" two  principles of justice H significantly the difference principle H is clearly a central and ongoing one& 'he cardinal importance of the I in influencing selection of the two principles plants its importance within Rawls" theory of justice& 'he persuasiveness of the device is once again subject to -ey debate&Rawls himself recogniJes "the limited scope of justice as fairness 4 *ow far its conclusions must  be revised once these other matters are understood cannot be decided in advance&" /9  Civen the centrality of the I to Rawls" theory of justice$ it arguably forms the basis to the theory"s safety net& 'he importance of this is derived from the fact that "the Rawlsian veil of ignorance e2cludes -nowledge of concrete facts"$ /;  which justifies reflection on "intuitions we appeal to in our everyday  practices$ and 4 on the nature of justice from an impartial perspective"& /=  Rawls thus argues that modification of either the ) or our e2isting judgements will eventually lead to "reflective e.uilibrium"$ 0>  the state in which$ for now$ "we have done what we can to render coherent and to  justify our convictions of social justice 4 5'hus6 we have reached a conception of the srcinal  position&"  0%  'he abstract nature of this conception is justifiable if we focus on abstract principles for a political system$ 0/  which is the e2act condition of Rawls" theory of justice& 'hus without the )  perceived in a way that the I allows it$ reflection upon intuitions and the nature of justice would not lead to justify our convictions of social justice&*owever ,ymlic-a see-s to criticise Rawls" development of such intuitions$ thus deeming them unpersuasive& *e argues that "Rawls himself leaves too much room for the influence of natural /7  Wolff$ Robert& Understanding Rawls ()rinceton niversity )ress$ %=99! page 88 /8  Ibid$ page 89 /9  Rawls$ Aohn&  A Theory of Justice (2ford niversity )ress$ %=9%! page %9 /;  urg$ Wibren van der and illigenburg$ 'heo an&  Reflecti%e ./uilibrium& .ssays in $onour of Robert $eeger (,luwer 3cademic )ublishers$ %==;! page 1 /=  ,ymlic-a$ Will& Contemporary Political Philosophy (2ford niversity )ress$ />>/! pages 8=#9> 0>  Rawls$ Aohn&  A Theory of Justice (2ford niversity )ress$ %=9%! page /> 0%  Ibid$ page /% 0/  urg$ Wibren van der and illigenburg$ 'heo an&  Reflecti%e ./uilibrium& .ssays in $onour of Robert $eeger (,luwer 3cademic )ublishers$ %==;! page 1  1  What is the importance of the ‘veil of ignorance’ in Rawls’ theory of justice? Is his use of this device persuasive?ine.ualities" 00   behind the I$ as his definition of the worst#off lay entirely in terms of people"s  possession of social primary goods& 'herefore whilst ensuring the well endowed get no more social  primary goods then$ say$ the handicapped$ this doesn"t completely "mitigate the effects of natural accident and social circumstance"&  01  'his is due to the fact that once you have chosen the two  principles of justice and importantly the difference principle$ "the well endowed still get the natural good of their endowment$ which the handicapped undeservedly lac-&" 07  'herefore there are grounds for "including natural primary goods in the inde2 which determines who is in the least well off  position 4 ut Rawls does not even recogniJe the desirability of trying to compensate such ine.ualities&" 08  Dwor-in agrees$ stating endowment as brute luc-$ though distinguishes it from ambition as he believes parties are responsible for choices made given their circumstances& 09 <or Rawls the I justifies reflection upon intuitions and the nature of justice due to the  blind nature in which you choose the two principles& *owever ,ymlic-a criticises the intuitive  basis from which parties would accept the difference principle and two principles of justice$ thus .uestioning the legitimacy of parties intuitions and therefore reflection&'o conclude$ whilst the I clearly forms the basis to Rawls" theory of distributive justice due to its instrumentality to the ): critical value in causing acceptance of the two principles of justice H namely the difference principle: and its traits allowing for reflection upon intuitions and the nature of justice$ its persuasiveness is not so evident& 'he I undoubtedly has its flaws$ as significantly highlighted by 'aylor who argues the submission of self#interest: Wolff with regard to reasoning and value: and ,ymlic-a and Dwor-in in relation to disregard of natural disadvantages& *owever due to adaptation of Rawls" theory in response to some criticisms$ and the micro#level importance of others$ I conclude that as an abstract device designed as a basis for progression toward the conceptualisation of a liberal form of distributive justice the I succeeds in its function& Eignificantly$ it also shows new initiative within the contractarian field of political philosophy& Whilst *obbes and @oc-e were responding to +ivil War and the Clorious Revolution respectively$ Rawls" theory of justice is plausibly applicable across time and space$ greatly due to the centrality of the I within his theory& 'herefore I believe the I is persuasive due to no major criticisms affecting the central value of the device within the theory of justice$ e2emplified by its high level of abstraction and assimilative nature& 00  ,ymlic-a$ Will& Contemporary Political Philosophy (2ford niversity )ress$ />>/! page 9> 01  Rawls$ Aohn&  A Theory of Justice (2ford niversity )ress$ %=9%! page %>> 07  ,ymlic-a$ Will& Contemporary Political Philosophy (2ford niversity )ress$ />>/! page 9% 08  Ibid$ page 9/ 09  Calston$ William 3& The 0bligations of ./uality in The Re%iew of Politics (olume 80$ Issue 0$ />>%! page 8>=  7
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