Principle of justice

One proposition regarding the choice of principle is the basis of decision on  general convictions generally held by individuals. It is thus not argued that there are moral virtues already in place in the individual level. However, such principles need to be fleshed out in the societal level. The concurrence of the parties that such principles would be for the benefit of everyone would lead to the establishment of a principle of justice. It is presumed that individuals would not choose principles that would disadvantage any one person socially or economically.

It is posited thus that in deciding for or against circumstances in the original situation, parties would decide in favor of the advantage for everyone. Rawls goes so far as to argue that it is the advantage to the least advantage member of society that is of the greatest significance. This final advantage is what the parties strive to attain as well. Several things to notice in this argument is Rawls' stress on the importance of benefiting those least advantaged and more so, the need to benefit everyone through the system of choice.

However, applying the veil of ignorance to this argument, persons would not be aware whether or not they would be advantaging themselves or other persons by their chosen principles. All that parties would know would be the concurrence among members of the group given particular choices. It could be quite possible then that the agreed upon principles are mutually upheld by the parties to the social contract yet these same principles could entail disadvantage to a majority of the parties, or worse, to those already disadvantaged by their stature in the offset. An example would be abortion.

The majority would rule against the same, particularly with arguments for the preservation of the life of the unborn. However, such a choice would take for granted the inability of some parents  to raise a child given their economic situation. In this way those who have less in life will be afforded more limitations and disadvantages. An alternative example is stem cell research. Given that stem cells are taken from embryos still at the early stage of development, it is argued that the same is equivalent to the taking of the life of an unborn child. There is only a minority who hold stem cell research as acceptable.

It would thus be reasonable to assume that in contracting amongst themselves, the principle chosen would be that against the same research. However, such a choice would disadvantage disabled persons and ailing individuals who would have had a chance at recovery of their dysfunctional body parts through the implantation of stem cells in their body. Now, person A in the first situation does not know that her birth control techniques are no longer working, worse, she might be forced into a compromising situation which unfortunately would leave growing evidence of the encounter.

Person B on the other hand is in the second situation and he does not know that he is sick and that one of his bodily organs is failing him, so he contracts to deem unacceptable stem cell research. The veil of ignorance then inhibits the parties to the contract from choosing in order that there are shared benefits and in such a manner that social circumstances do not lead to disadvantages. The veil of ignorance may be an adequate premise to tide over the weight of personal biases, but to uphold it entails the taking away of the presumption that actions may be taken in order to benefit the already disadvantaged.

To put it simply, with each party to the contract ignorant of their individual stations, both the well-off and the poor are unaware of their situation. They are merely aware of the situation requiring a choice of principle yet not of the particular facts to which such choice would later apply. Thus, with no knowledge of stations, there would be no knowledge as to the extent of inequality. Given the lack of factual basis, even rational choices would be rendered inappropriate and potentially burdensome to the contracting parties.

Rawls posits however that the convictions held are weighed against the initial account of the situation. If the two are in sync then there is a resultant conclusion as to the principle of justice to be adopted. However, as most often is the case, there may be discrepancies. In the event of such discrepancies, there arises a need to either modify the initial situation given or to adjust the convictions manifested. In the reflective equilibrium, Rawls assumes that eventually there will come out a description of the initial situation both expressive of reasonable conditions and resulting in principles matching considered judgments.

Such a balance struck is deemed reflective as it shows the premises from which principles are derived. However, it can be noted that the process delineated for the reflective equilibrium is sufficiently vague. It does not state as to what is the greater good or the more just option in the process of adjustment. Is it to be assumed that given discrepancies there should be a halfway meeting between the reasonable condition and the preconceived judgments? Certainly such a requirement would be too exacting and practically unenforceable.

The adjustment of one side in order to strike equilibrium entails then a maintenance on the other side. Yet Rawls does not reveal which is of greater significance, whether reasonable conditions or convictions of justice. Reflective equilibrium thus becomes a process with steps that cannot be implemented and with a purpose that remains uncertain. Rawls might argue that the purpose of the reflective equilibrium is to make transparent the rationale behind principles selected.

However, given the lack of assignment as to which area should be given more concern, the decision-making becomes subjective and dependent largely on the situation being contemplated. The question that springs from such a process would be who would then decide what is more important? Given the contract nature of such theory, it would thus be the parties. Yet it can be reasonably assumed that not all the parties would have the same choice or stand. It comes then to a call on majority, trickling back down to the utility that Rawls repudiated on the outset of his theory.