Veil of Ignorance

All people are biased by their situations, so how can people agree on a “social contract” to govern how the world should work.

Philosopher John Rawls suggests that we should imagine we sit behind a veil of ignorance that keeps us from knowing who we are and identifying with our personal circumstances. By being ignorant of our circumstances, we can more objectively consider how societies should operate.

Two primary principles supplement Rawls’ veil of ignorance: the liberty principle and the difference principle.

According to the liberty principle, the social contract should try to ensure that everyone enjoys the maximum liberty possible without intruding upon the freedom of others.

According to the difference principle, the social contract should guarantee that everyone an equal opportunity to prosper. In other words, if there are any social or economic differences in the social contract, they should help those who are the worst off. And, any advantages in the contract should be available to everyone.

So, according to Rawls, approaching tough issues through a veil of ignorance and applying these principles can help us decide more fairly how the rules of society should be structured. And fairness, as Rawls and many others believe, is the essence of justice.