John Rawls and His Misconception of Justice

The theory of justice as fairness is a contract theory. Rawls posits that there is an original agreement the object thereof is the principle of justice to be determined as the foundation of the society. Thus, from this original agreement springs the accepted standards of interaction among members of the society as well as the social structures to be set up in order to oversee such relations among members. These members of the society are in charge then of determining the provisions of the contract and it is the consent of all the members which determine the principles of justice.

To be more specific, it is of concern that basic rights are assigned and that social benefits are distributed amongst the members. In making such decisions, Rawls raises the presumption that individuals choose behind a veil of ignorance. This veil of ignorance entails that the parties to the contract have no knowledge as to their personal characteristics and the character of their community. The parties are only knowledgeable in that they are aware of the need for them to establish principles of justice given a particular situation, the nature of which they are knowledgeable yet the details of which they are not.

Rawls intended the veil of ignorance to be an answer to the possibility of individuals choosing principles only on the basis of self-service or self-gain. The theory is thus based on this initial choice made by the parties. The parties agree to a circumstance that is fair. From this first choice of principle evolves other decisions and institutions. Subsequent choices would thus be deemed just if they emanate from the procedure of the initially chosen circumstance or principle. To quote from Rawls:

A society satisfying the principles of justice as fairness comes as close as it can to becoming a voluntary scheme when its members are autonomous and the obligations they recognize self-imposed. (1971) This statement serves to emphasize the contract nature of this theory of justice. It further reflects the rational character which Rawls strives to have attributed to his process of principle choice. Rawls shifts his attention to focus on the probable choices that would be made given the premise of justice as fairness.

He initially rejects the theory of utility, believing it to be incompatible with the principle of social cooperation espoused by the theory of justice. Furthermore, Rawls argues that given that each person would desire to protect his own interests then there would be no reason to agree to sacrifice one's own satisfaction in order for a net satisfaction of a greater number. Thus Rawls argues that there would emerge two choices: (1) equality in basic rights and duties; and (2) social and economic inequalities be deemed just only if the result would be benefits for everyone, particularly the least advantaged.

The Myth of the Veil of Ignorance The initial contention to be made is against the presumption of the veil of ignorance. In theory, such a veil would be idyll in attempting to formulate a means of accounting for the beneficent nature of choosing equality for everyone rather than personal gain. However, such a veil shifts from theoretical tool to myth. It cannot be debunked that a person of average intelligence and in full possession of reason would be knowledgeable of his or her particular whereabouts and circumstances.

It is too much to posit that in formulating principles of justice, a person is unaware of the factual background from which the circumstance arose or from which he himself began. On the contrary, a person will be uncertain of everything except his own personal experiences and his own situation. It is but natural that in making a decision, particularly when making it along with the society to which one belongs, that one come from the perspective of safeguarding one's own interests. It is not necessary that a person work to advance his situation.

However it is undeniable that at the very least a person would make decisions in accordance with his situation. The veil of ignorance has no application in the realm of the physical. As a tool then of theory it becomes useless as the subsequent premises resulting from it would necessarily be rendered fictional as well. This is a relatively simple argument yet it should be borne in mind throughout the course of the paper as the unavailing nature of this veil of ignorance puts into question other presumptions of this theory of justice, in particular, the two principles which Rawls insists would more likely be chosen.