Constructing the Original Position from Scratch 0: Introduction
This is the Introductory post in a series of posts on Constructing the original position. Look here for the rest of the posts in this series
Hi all. I have finished the first draft of what is currently the third chapter of my thesis. Some time ago, in the comment threads, I proposed to Stillwater that once I finished my third chapter I would try to show how we could do moral and political philosophy by building a practicality requirement deeply into the premises. I also told James that I would show him an objectively true theory of Justice. Well, my third chapter basically does both (or so I claim). So, I have decided to post the first draft here on this site. Some of you guys expressed an interest in this project, and I hope that there is continuing interest in this. However, my chapter is 15000 words. If I were to post the whole chunk, most of you would lose interest before the very end. Now, even if I break up the chapter into 1000 word long posts, this will still take 15 weeks if I posted it once a week, by which time I probably would have to submit my thesis. I propose instead, that once people have finished with one post, even if they find that they have nothing to discuss, if they want to see the next post in the series, they send in a comment saying “next”. If I don’t hear any “next”s that means either that people are still digesting or not interested anymore. Each “next” comment brings the next post in the series one day closer. Otherwise, they are posted a week apart.
Before I start the series of posts, I would like to provide some background to the whole project. The original position,very roughly, is a kind of contract situation in which rational parties choose principles of justice from behind a veil of ignorance. Whichever principles are chosen in that situation are supposed to be the principles of justice. Much ink has been spilled over what exactly will be chosen in the original position. That topic, while interesting in its own right, is not the one of concern to us. What we want to know is: why would we think that the principles that are generated by the original position (OP) are the principles of justice? Why not some other contract situation? There are various feature of the OP that stand in need of justification. Let me list them out:
1. The OP is a contract/choice situation
2. There is a veil of ignorance which
a) obscures personal identity
b) obscures the contracting parties’ personal features like their race, religion, sexual orientation, preferences, beliefs, talents, virtues, proclivities, gender, wealth and socio-economic position
c) obscures particular features of the society like
i) Demographic information such as the proportion of people possessing the personal features as described in 2b)
ii) Historical information such as whether there had been a history of racism, whether land was stolen, and even whether there is ongoing racism, what the particular institutions that have operated in the society are etc
d) does not obscure general information about the world such as what kinds of claims are generally speaking made against ech other, and other facts and theories which are the subject of consensus among the various social sciences
e) but does in fact prevent the parties behind the veil from knowing if any controversial doctrine is true
3.The parties behind the veil are:
a) mutually disinterested. i.e. indifferent to the fate of other parties behind the veil
b) maximisers – provided that they care about some x, they will ceteris paribus prefer more x to less.
4. People are conceived as possessing two moral powers:
a) A capcity for a conception of the good
b) A sense of justice
5. There is a list of primary goods consisting of various liberties, wealth, social position, opportunities, powers and the social bases of self respect
6. The parties behind the veil do not care (or care significantly less compared to how much they care for the primary goods required for survival) for gains to the primary goods beyond the minimum required for survival. They always prefer a gain to the minimum than a gain to the top.
My task will be to justify the various features so listed. Insofar as I justify all these features, I have justified the OP. If these features, as stated cannot be justified, what can be justified? How close is what can be justified to the OP?
How does Rawls actually go about defending the OP? He uses 2 approaches. The first approach is reflective equilibrium. The original position is ultimately justified because it eventually yields principles which cohere with our considered judgments about particular cases. These judgments are things like slavery is wrong, or that men and women should stand as political equals. Now, there are a number of reasons why I consider such an approach to be problematic. To go into the details would be for me to rehash the first chapter of of my thesis, which I don’t want to do here. It suffices for me to say that since I do consider such an approach to be mistaken, I will not resort to such appeals to intuitions or considered judgments in my argument. The second approach is to provide independent arguments for the original position. Rawls himself admits that his arguments are not deductive. A careful appraisal of his arguments show that the arguments are incomplete rely on implausible premises or fail to yield the conclusions he wants. Efforts by other philosophers to shore up the argument for the original position often fail because they make appeals to highly arcane and comprehensive theories most often some deep and arcane aspect of Kantian theory. However, Kant’s theory is arcane, and appreciating it is difficult. Even if it eventually turns out that Kant was right about the relevant things, because they are so difficult to appreciate, we cannot convince the non-Kantians among us that the theory was true. Rawls, especially in his later years deeply desired a theory that was based on premises that were acceptable to everyone. Again, here, I do not wish to argue this point in detail because that will require me to rehash the second chapter of my thesis. It is sufficient for me to just say that I will make no deep appeals to any comprehensive doctrines.
If you want to see the first post say Next.