Conception of justice

The original position is the central component of John Rawls’ theory of justice, as it provides a hypothetical perspective from which the principles of justice are to be established. The most important feature of the original position is the “veil of ignorance,” which shrouds individuals of the knowledge that they would ordinarily possess when assessing notions of justice, particularly personal characteristics (such as gender, income, age, class, etc.) and social and historical circumstances.

The veil of ignorance’s function stems from the presumption that individuals are egoist in nature, likely to conceive of justice that best serves the interests pertinent to their demographic standing. By stripping individuals of personal knowledge, Rawls maintains that the conception of justice has a better chance of being fair and impartial. Rawls effectively differs from the Utilitarian line of thought that justice is distributive.

Whereas Utilitarians value things based on the extent to which they maximize the aggregate welfare of humanity, they do not question the lack of restrictions to be had on its distribution. In effect, happiness is measured as the net value of this distribution, regardless of how badly it is at the expense of one group and to the benefit of another. Rawls suggests then that there are only two principles of justice that could be a rational agreement between such parties. The first is a guarantee that basic rights and liberties are equal among all parties in order to ensure their ability to pursue their interests.

The second, also known as the difference principle, presumes the existence of inequalities but asserts that all inequalities must benefit the worse off members of society. In effect, inequalities are excused if they serve to balance existing inequalities. With regards to “The chain that never stops,” what transpires between meatpackers and their employees is effectively distributive justice, where the welfare of the employees are subordinated to the benefit of the meatpackers.

Rawls may not necessarily balk at the catastrophic injury rate of workers in the meatpacking industry, but he would most certainly object to their lack of compensation and the dismissive attitude their employers take towards addressing their needs and welfare. Rawls would recognize that safety standards or no, the hazardous nature of the job and the losses incurred is a worker inequality that must be addressed with an inequality that balances off these risks and losses.