“In arriving at the favored interpretation of the initial situation there is no point at which an appeal is made to self-evidence in the traditional sense either of general conceptions or particular convictions” (Rawls 19).


Rawls is wrapping up his section on the original position by clarifying that, when the principles of justice are being decided on, they are not decided on by someone’s personal ideas or evidence but rather a general understanding reached behind a veil of ignorance. If the people are meant to come to conclusions without knowing about themselves or others, that is considered to be fair in this particular scenario. 

I chose this section because it reminded me of a debate among social work researchers. It boils down to a question of whether research informs social work practice or practice informs research. It’s being made into a dichotomy, kind of like the argument of the chicken and the egg and which came first. Being a student, I don’t presume to know more than the several others who have tackled this issue, but generally I believe that both sides are important. For example, knowing how to help a certain population would require research, however that research wouldn’t exist without first hand experiences. 

In Rawls’ imaginary creation of society, individuals are meant to make decisions that are not based on others and that ignore aspects of themselves. He calls it the veil of ignorance. I mentioned in my previous QCQ how it might be beneficial to ease someone’s state of mind and eliminate bias, but now I question it more. I think the only way you can know what would be the best course of action would be through experience (i.e. practice). You can make a claim and then see that it is wrong, but you wouldn’t know beforehand. Whatever conclusion you reach won’t make the most sense, because you’re only basing it off of what you can think up and not what you’ve seen. Of course, we all have to start somewhere, as even children experiment and change their beliefs. But basing an entire society off of that seems unstable. 

I said I agree with both sides of the research debate in general, but with social contact theory, I can see the greater value of practice informing research (personal experience dictating decisions and agreements). With the specific principles Rawls determines, I think the second would be one where experience might alter precious views. For this reason I would circle back to another idea in this section that we should be able to “modify the account of the initial situation or we can revise our existing judgements” (18). I think that because we can’t truly know the specifics and complexities of a given situation without having experienced it at least briefly, we need to be able to change that original agreement of justice as needed. Or at least, make some kind of amendment. We might very well change our minds, but we shouldn’t be restricted by that original choice we made. And the first principle of equality shouldn’t be put at risk because of the limited information we had before. 


What are some specific examples where not having prior knowledge might cause harm?

Class discussion and impact:

My contributions: I asked a few clarifying questions, one being about what Rawls’ intentions were with the veil of ignorance and the other being about the diversity or lack thereof in the original group making decisions. I also shared my QCQ and wondered whether this imaginary society was still going to be a capitalist society and the problems that might create.

Others’ contributions: Anna made a very good point that it’s impossible to take ourselves and our interests out of the decision making process, as explaining things simply still boils down to, “well, what would you want in that situation.” I also just want to acknowledge Hayley’s willingness to answer my questions because she did clear a lot of things up and give me a new perspective. I like what she said about how, even in what appears to be a homogenous group, you will still see lots of variety in views.

I do feel like I learned a lot this class just in terms of what Rawls is trying to say and also how I personally feel about the world. Being a social work student and also highly empathetic, I know I tend to tense at passages that seem to favor certain negative lines of thought and a lack of acknowledgement of marginalized groups. The question raised about whether a person stripped of their peculiarities and identities could truly be a person really struck me and sums up my thoughts, but I do also see that other side of it. That you can know enough about a person or group and, along with the first principle of equal rights, be able to see basic rules that would not intend to harm anyone regardless of identity. I’m glad we got to take this dive into Rawls and I will try to keep him in mind along with Mill and the other literature we’ve read as we move forward.