Globalization: John Rawls and the Veil of Ignorance

A Theory of Justice: Original Edition

Review homework answers.

Listen to Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. Discuss reasons that caring people ignore serious social problems. In journal, make note of any possible solutions they could share with Dylan, then share with class if desired.

Reference Singer’s moral thought experiment showing we give preference to those near us.

Henry Sidgwick, moral philosopher from Cambridge University a century ago:

“We should all agree that each of us is bound to show kindness to his parents and spouse and children, and to other kinsmen in a less degree: and to those who have rendered services to him, and any others whom he may have admitted to his intimacy and called friends: and to neighbors and fellow-countrymen more than others: and perhaps we may say to those of our own race more than to black or yellow men, and generally to human beings in proportion to their affinity to ourselves.”

Closer to our own time we find a more extreme form of partiality:

“We must be honest, decent, loyal and friendly to members of our blood and to no one else. What happens to the Russians, what happens to the Czechs, is a matter of utter indifference to me. Such good blood of our own kind there may be among the nations we shall acquire for ourselves, if necessary, by taking away the children and bringing them up among us. Whether other races live in comfort or perish of hunger interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our own culture; apart from that it does not interest me. Whether or not 10,000 Russian women collapse from exhaustion while digging a tank ditch interest me only in so far as the tank ditch is completed for Germany.” – Heinrich Himmler to SS leaders in Poland in 1943.

Compare and contrast this to ethics of care?

Is it better to continue living in imagined borders of nation states, or move toward a more global mentality?

Introduce Rawls’ theory of justice and the original position. In the original position, the parties select principles that will determine the basic structure of the society they will live in. This choice is made from behind a veil of ignorance, which would deprive participants of information about their particular characteristics: his or her ethnicity, social status, gender and, crucially, Conception of the Good (an individual’s idea of how to lead a good life). This forces participants to select principles impartially and rationally.


Hand out sealed envelope to each student with a societal character on it. At the end, this will be the person they must justify their choice to. List:

  1. Bill Gates
  2. Gandhi
  3. Dali Llama
  4. Single parent of two in the U.S. on welfare
  5. Chinese factory worker
  6. Child in rural Africa
  7. University Professor
  8. Child in India
  9. Parent of middle class family in U.S.
  10. Homeless person in NYC
  11. Prisoner in Mississippi
  12. Nurse in Florida
  13. Medicinal Marijuana Farmer in California
  14. Mural painter in San Francisco
  15. Environmental Scientist for MDOT
  16. NBA Player
  17. Struggling small business owner

You are bargaining on behalf of your client in an Original Position. You have to come up with a principle of distributive justice which your client will be able to live under satisfactorily. You know nothing of your client’s talents, abilities, gender, religious views, sexual orientation etc., except that you do know that she or he is not disabled. Fortunately, the other people in your group are in exactly the same situation. You will have to think about how you will justify your choice to your client when you find out who he or she is. Note: a prior OP has already agreed that basic liberties—freedom of conscience, religion, expression, association, and the rights to participate in public and political life, as well as the liberties associated with the psychological and physical integrity of the person — must be guaranteed to all, so you need not worry about violations of people’s basic liberty-rights.

You have six principles from which to choose. Remember that these principles will govern your client’s entire life, and he/she will not be able to escape.

1. Laissez Faire: Markets will operate without government intervention, except to protect private property (including intellectual property through patenting and copyrighting legislation) and to place modest limits on the emergence of oligopolistic and monopolistic markets.

2. Equality of Resources: People will have roughly equal resources available to them over their full lives.

3. Sufficiency: Everyone will have a `basic needs’ safety net guaranteed. Above that level, markets will determine rewards, except as the democratically elected legislature chooses to constrain them. (If you select this principle, be prepared to explain what count as basic needs and why).

4. Maximin: Inequalities of resources will be arranged so that the least advantaged will better off than they would be under any other arrangement.

5. Equality of Welfare: Resources will be distributed so that everyone is more or less equally happy.

6. You may, if you choose, formulate a compromise between these principles, or formulate an entirely different principle. If so, it must be precise and you must be prepared to defend it.

Appoint a scribe for your group. Also appoint a chair. Discuss the principles for 45 minutes. Then vote on the principles. You are aiming to achieve consensus. (In the real OP you would have eternity, which we cannot reproduce here).

Discuss that this really only applies within a single society and not between nations.

Using online tool poll everywhere and cell phones, we will determine if scholar’s beliefs match those of the general public. Most people believe that the U.S. spends too much of it’s budget on foreign aid and that this aid makes up about 15-20% of the budget. In reality, spending on this aid is less than 1% of the U.S. federal budget.

Read Beatrice’s Goat, and discuss how basic resources can help alleviate the unjust burden of poverty. Discuss how no one is either too powerless or too young to make a difference, and generate a list of ideas with things we can do to help.

Homework: In journal: what is one thing you could realistically do that would most help make the world a better place?

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