Question Tina Social Sciences

John Rawls' 'original position' and 'the veil of ignorance'

What is the point of John Rawls’ ‘original position’?

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Answer Internal Staff

John Rawls’ ‘original position’ refers to a hypothetical scenario in which we are asked to imagine ourselves and others in a state prior to the assignment of any characteristics that might determine our place in society. So, for example, we would not yet be aware of our gender, our social class, or our natural talents and abilities. This lack of knowledge is referred to as ‘the veil of ignorance’. The idea of doing this is to strip away the facts that are irrelevant to the consideration of how a fair and just society should operate in principle.

The important thing to remember about the original position is that it is not intended to be a realistic depiction of how societies are formed – it is merely a device to get us to think about what fairness and justice entail in the absence of potentially interfering factors which we might otherwise take for granted. For example, a sighted person in our society might not care to make accommodations for the blind, but a person behind the veil of ignorance would not know whether they will be blind or sighted, and are therefore likely to prefer a society where the blind are considered.