Explain and assess the role of the original position in Rawls’ theory. Explain and assess the role of the original position in Rawls’ theory



Explain and assess the role of the original position in Rawls’ theory.




Week 3: Justice as Fairness II: The Original Position

This week we move on to address Rawls’ main argument for his principles, which focuses on his original position. Topics include the circumstances of justice, the veil of ignorance, and the rationality of the parties.


Required reading

Rawls, A Theory of Justice. Sections 20-26, 29.

Further reading

John Rawls, Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Freeman, Rawls. Chapter 4.

  1. M. Hare, ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice’, Philosophical Quarterly, 23 (1973), 144-55, 241-52.

Thomas Scanlon, ‘Contractualism and Utilitarianism’. In Bernard Williams and Amartya Sen, eds, Utilitarianism and Beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Pogge, John Rawls. Esp. chapters 2-4.

Chandran Kukathas and Philip Pettit, Rawls: A Theory of Justice and its Critics. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990. Esp. chapters 2, 3, and 4.

Paul Graham, Rawls. Oxford: One World, 2007. Esp. chapters 2, 3, and 6.

Mandle and Reidy, eds, A Companion to Rawls. Esp. chapter 7.










Please use the above sources for information and use Harvard style of referencing

Please keep in mind of plagiarism





Essay 2000 words


Introduction 200

Summary of important points from the theory


Purpose statement and thesis statement


Body 1600

Explain the theory with the help of evidence (reference should be provided)

Critically analyse the theory with arguments for and against the theory

Please use the sources mentioned in the required reading



Conclusion 200

Restate the thesis statement

Summary of the essay









Information from a video in order to understand the theory

The original position is an artificial and self- consciously hypnotically thought device that Rawls develops in order to unpack the subject of justice

He think that the original position is a special way in fact a privileged way of understanding the nature of justice

Because it strips us of some of the particularities of our situations in real life that bias our views and our opinions about justice and about the ways in which the principles of social cooperation ought to be selected.



The original position is a location in which Rawls imagines REPRESNTATIVE TO FaMILY LINEs

Persons who he imagines as being situated behind a veil of ignorance

So to be yourself in original position is to imagine yourself being cut off from all the particularities that identify you.

Maybe in real life you are a white woman in the original position you would not know you are white, woman,

You do not know ethnicity religious status, gender, socio economic class in society


The hope for rawls is that by situating representatives behind the veil of ignorance s possible for them to get a clearer understanding of principles of justice and the way in whicj social cooperation ought to proceed then they would otherwise have had if they were tied to their particularities

So presumably a white women would in real life society agitate for principle of social cooperation that would beiefit her even if they came with the expense of other persons who are not so benefitted.

But behind the veil of ignorance she doesn’t know what principles of social cooperation would benefit her

He thinks that Such a person would not be able to choose those principle that she would choose if she were situated in real life at least not in same way because she doesn’t know what she is going to be in real life

She doesn’t know all the particularities


However there are some general pieces of knowledge that individual hold in the original position

Among the general knowledge things that they know what rawls calls the circumstances of justice

-are Things they include objective such circumstances e.g relative scarcity of resources – human beings in any society that we have looked in have not had unlimited resources – rawls thinks this is legitimate to allow us piece of knowledge into original position


moral psychologies that rawls assigns to his representatives in the original position- including specially a certain psychological egotism or self centeredness.

The participants in the original positions are thought to be moral egoists who are interested in pursuing their own interests or atleast setting up principles of social cooperation that will enable them to pursue their own interests in a maximal way.

There are few other things that the participants in the original position know but none of these things are particular they are just general things about the nature of social cooperation about the ways through which human beings tend to cooperate with each other


Rawls thinks that person situate din the original position are better capable of selecting principles of justice than they would otherwise be


Two principles of justice would be chosen as ways of organizing society by reprentatives of original position


First principle of justice which Rawls thinks would be chosen in the original position is the liberty principle and state more or less as follows


Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all


Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberates compatible with a similar system of liberty for all


In addition rawls thinks that our representatives in the original position which is a second principle of social cooperation

Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged both to bthe greatest benefit of the least

And also attached to the offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity


Rawls ranks these principles of justice in the ranks of priority with the liberty principle preceeding the difference preceding



Why does rawls thinks these principles would be selected?

He thinks these principles are the optimal principle by means of which social cooperation ought to proceed among persons who are in real life are descended from the moral development a situation described in the original position.



Notes from the lecture




  • The criticism people might not necessarily be risk averse as Rawls thinks






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