7 Thought Experiments that will make you question everything

The Veil of Ignorance

Justice is blind, should we be? (Mural of Lady Justice by Alex Proimos. (Wikimedia Commons))

This experiment was devised by John Rawls in 1971 to explore notions of justice in his book A Theory of Justice.

Suppose that you and a group of people had to decide on the principles that would establish a new society. However, none of you know anything about who you will be in that society. Elements such as your race, income level, sex, gender, religion, and personal preferences are all unknown to you. After you decide on those principles, you will then be turned out into the society you established.

Question: How would that society turn out? What does that mean for our society now?

Rawls argues that in this situation we can’t know what our self-interest is so we cannot pursue it. Without that guidepost, he suggests that we would all try to create a fair society with equal rights and economic security for the poor both out of moral considerations and as a means to secure the best possible worst-case scenario for us when we step outside that veil. Others disagree, arguing that we would seek only to maximize our freedom or assure perfect equality

This raises questions for the current state of our society, as it suggests we allow self-interest to get in the way of progressing towards a just society. Rawls’ ideas about the just society are fascinating and can be delved into here.

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