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Let's throw Rawls in

Wnope
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7/25/2011 9:34:03 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
Since there is sudden wealth of threads devoted to reviewing one or another moral philosophy, a topic I like, and I personally think has much more fertile ground for discussion, is John Rawl's original position (OP).

The idea is essentially this: for any given society there will be an unequal initial distribution of resources for any given person. That means that a certain society might work out great for rich person A, but that same society completely screws poor person B.

When deciding how to structure a society, imagine yourself behind a "veil of ignorance" where you have no idea what your position in society will be. That is, I can lay out my plan for society, but I might end up a poor person, rich, white, black, muslim, etc. In his essays, he specifically refers to it as choosing "initial distribution of resources."

Thus, the issue of deciding what sort of society you want can be narrowed to the question "if you were behind the original veil, what sort of society would you ideally be born into?" Hedging your bets, self-interest, is the same as creating a system which benefits more rather than less people.

A quick application to a common (partially strawman) anti-Utilitarian argument: utilitarianism would agree with a world where everyone gains utility from the suffering of a single girl is ideal since it maximizes utility for the maximum number of people.

The Veil of Ignorance approach would include the fact that you might be born as that little girl.

Rawls had one answer for what he considered the ideal society for those behind the Veil of Ignorance:

A society where the distribution of resources is such that you maximize the life prospects for the least well off. This is generally called MaxiMin.

If you disagree with this strategy for distributing resources in a society, what would you consider as an alternative? Again, consider yourself behind the veil of ignorance.

This system is not meant to be some objective standard outside the "is-ought." It was specifically developed with the normative assumption that it should be pursued only if you want a democracy of some form.
darkkermit
Posts: 11,204
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7/25/2011 11:47:54 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
'The veal of ignorance' appears to take society as a single snapshot, not taking into consideration past and future conditions.

Plus, the situation with the little girl. One might be willing to live in that society, and accept the risk that he or she will be the little girl. In fact, basis on which society is best, is based on individual risk preference.
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Ragnar_Rahl
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7/25/2011 11:49:20 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
We'll never be behimd a veil of ignorance, thus, any focus on maximizing one's outcomes from behind one will be counter to maximizing one's outcomes in reality.
It came to be at its height. It was commanded to command. It was a capital before its first stone was laid. It was a monument to the spirit of man.
Rockylightning
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7/26/2011 1:11:05 AM
Posted: 5 years ago
At 7/25/2011 11:47:54 PM, darkkermit wrote:
'The veal of ignorance' appears to take society as a single snapshot, not taking into consideration past and future conditions.

Plus, the situation with the little girl. One might be willing to live in that society, and accept the risk that he or she will be the little girl. In fact, basis on which society is best, is based on individual risk preference.

Thats assuming the girl chose to live in that society.
Wnope
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7/26/2011 1:30:25 AM
Posted: 5 years ago
At 7/25/2011 11:47:54 PM, darkkermit wrote:
'The veal of ignorance' appears to take society as a single snapshot, not taking into consideration past and future conditions.

Plus, the situation with the little girl. One might be willing to live in that society, and accept the risk that he or she will be the little girl. In fact, basis on which society is best, is based on individual risk preference.

The veil incorporates past and future in that any system you would set up should be able to cope with external pressures and internal changes that come from future events and lead from past to present.

Yes, one might be willing to take that risk. However, if you chose a Minimax solution, that situation wouldn't occur. The argument is that, of the various strategies that could be taken behind the veil of ignorance, Minimax is preferable.

You could in turn offer a strategy other than Maximin, such as the "aim for high risk, low probability scenarios" or even "Minimax" (libertarian nightmare). To give an example from Rawls, you could propose a system that combines Maximin with what he calls the First Principle of Justice: "each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others." Rawls personally argued for a combined Maximin/First Principle as a means of deriving a functioning democracy.

One of the big advantages I find is that Rawls recognizes a moral system has to be based on a normative assumption as opposed to some objective factual morality. He can't argue that he proves his system is better (in an objective sense), only that the Veil provides an useful means of discussing competing moral theories.

I agree to a great extent with the first principle of justice, though I am hesitant about Maximin.
Lasagna
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7/26/2011 11:10:41 AM
Posted: 5 years ago
One might not be born very smart, as well; would we then want our society set up to make sure that the meek are rewarded as much as the strong?
Rob
belle
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7/26/2011 11:21:45 AM
Posted: 5 years ago
At 7/26/2011 11:10:41 AM, Lasagna wrote:
One might not be born very smart, as well; would we then want our society set up to make sure that the meek are rewarded as much as the strong?

i think the OP explains it poorly. rawls central idea was that an inequality in wealth is only justified if it leads to the least well off being better off than they otherwise would be. so yes, the brilliant should be more highly compensated for his brilliance, but only to the degree that it is necessary to get him to contribute his skills to sociey and make the least well off better off somehow.

i think the idea has some appeal (at least in that form) but the details of what counts as making the lower class better off and how much inequality an improvement in lifestyle justifies are somewhat vague.

also it seems to me that with a basic understanding of probability it would make sense to choose the world where theres a very small chance that you'd be the little girl if you'd be significantly better off having her tortured. but thats a seperate issue i guess...
evidently i only come to ddo to avoid doing homework...
Lasagna
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7/26/2011 8:44:52 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
As I stated in the other morality thread, is there any practical application for this theory? Is it possible for many commoners to understand and implement it?
Rob
belle
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7/27/2011 12:02:08 AM
Posted: 5 years ago
At 7/26/2011 8:44:52 PM, Lasagna wrote:
As I stated in the other morality thread, is there any practical application for this theory? Is it possible for many commoners to understand and implement it?

its more a theory of justice than everyday morality, but when it comes to issues of public policy, absolutely. all a person would have to do is ask:

(a) does it lead to inequalities of any kind?
(b) if so, are these inequalities offset by a benefit to the least well off members of society?
evidently i only come to ddo to avoid doing homework...
Lasagna
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7/27/2011 11:35:51 AM
Posted: 5 years ago
At 7/27/2011 12:02:08 AM, belle wrote:
At 7/26/2011 8:44:52 PM, Lasagna wrote:
As I stated in the other morality thread, is there any practical application for this theory? Is it possible for many commoners to understand and implement it?

its more a theory of justice than everyday morality, but when it comes to issues of public policy, absolutely. all a person would have to do is ask:

(a) does it lead to inequalities of any kind?
(b) if so, are these inequalities offset by a benefit to the least well off members of society?

So then Rawls would be completely against anything to do with capitalism?
Rob
CGBSpender
Posts: 82
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7/27/2011 1:04:01 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
At 7/27/2011 11:35:51 AM, Lasagna wrote:
At 7/27/2011 12:02:08 AM, belle wrote:
At 7/26/2011 8:44:52 PM, Lasagna wrote:
As I stated in the other morality thread, is there any practical application for this theory? Is it possible for many commoners to understand and implement it?

its more a theory of justice than everyday morality, but when it comes to issues of public policy, absolutely. all a person would have to do is ask:

(a) does it lead to inequalities of any kind?
(b) if so, are these inequalities offset by a benefit to the least well off members of society?

So then Rawls would be completely against anything to do with capitalism?

I don't think it's that simple. For example, from a capitalist perspective, the inequality is coupled with indefinite social mobility (at least theoretically). It also comes out of an idea that total economic freedom is more valuable than any equality of outcome. So a capitalist answer to these two questions would be:

1) Yes.
2) Yes. i.e. freedom/social mobility.
Lasagna
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7/27/2011 2:54:35 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
At 7/27/2011 1:04:01 PM, CGBSpender wrote:
At 7/27/2011 11:35:51 AM, Lasagna wrote:
At 7/27/2011 12:02:08 AM, belle wrote:
At 7/26/2011 8:44:52 PM, Lasagna wrote:
As I stated in the other morality thread, is there any practical application for this theory? Is it possible for many commoners to understand and implement it?

its more a theory of justice than everyday morality, but when it comes to issues of public policy, absolutely. all a person would have to do is ask:

(a) does it lead to inequalities of any kind?
(b) if so, are these inequalities offset by a benefit to the least well off members of society?

So then Rawls would be completely against anything to do with capitalism?

I don't think it's that simple. For example, from a capitalist perspective, the inequality is coupled with indefinite social mobility (at least theoretically).

That's what's called an "excuse," and not a very good one at that. Saying that oppressing a group of people is justified based on the fact that their progeny may escape that oppression is hardly a practice in strong ethical theory.

It also comes out of an idea that total economic freedom is more valuable than any equality of outcome.

Freedom is irrelevant. The only thing that limits freedom is giving someone else the freedom to limit it. Every right you give is a right taken away. Anyone who is truly interested in rights and freedom is not logically disposed to start appropriating them.

So a capitalist answer to these two questions would be:

1) Yes.
2) Yes. i.e. freedom/social mobility.

Your first answer speaks volumes. The second is more of an excuse than anything else, but the problem isn't your answer to it, it's the question itself that is problematic. Like if I was to say "will my family be harmed, and if so, will they be properly remunerated?" You ask an absolute in the first half, and follow it with something conditional and subjective in the second.
Rob
belle
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7/27/2011 3:46:29 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
At 7/27/2011 11:35:51 AM, Lasagna wrote:
At 7/27/2011 12:02:08 AM, belle wrote:
At 7/26/2011 8:44:52 PM, Lasagna wrote:
As I stated in the other morality thread, is there any practical application for this theory? Is it possible for many commoners to understand and implement it?

its more a theory of justice than everyday morality, but when it comes to issues of public policy, absolutely. all a person would have to do is ask:

(a) does it lead to inequalities of any kind?
(b) if so, are these inequalities offset by a benefit to the least well off members of society?

So then Rawls would be completely against anything to do with capitalism?

he is completely against laissez faire for sure, but it seems like what he advocates is a mixed economy with a strong safety net. its clear there are some serious benefits to the least well off in a capitalist system (compare the quality of life of a poor person now to 400 years ago), but he would also argue for legislation that brings more equality to the system without destroying too much of the benefit.
evidently i only come to ddo to avoid doing homework...
CGBSpender
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7/28/2011 9:15:42 AM
Posted: 5 years ago

(a) does it lead to inequalities of any kind?
(b) if so, are these inequalities offset by a benefit to the least well off members of society?

So then Rawls would be completely against anything to do with capitalism?

I don't think it's that simple. For example, from a capitalist perspective, the inequality is coupled with indefinite social mobility (at least theoretically).

That's what's called an "excuse," and not a very good one at that. Saying that oppressing a group of people is justified based on the fact that their progeny may escape that oppression is hardly a practice in strong ethical theory.

Well I'm not saying Capitalism is a strong ethical theory. I'm saying that because there is an answer to these questions it's not as open and shut as just he's against everything that has to do with capitalism". I agree it's a pretty poor excuse, but that doesn't mean it should be dismissed.


It also comes out of an idea that total economic freedom is more valuable than any equality of outcome.

Freedom is irrelevant. The only thing that limits freedom is giving someone else the freedom to limit it. Every right you give is a right taken away. Anyone who is truly interested in rights and freedom is not logically disposed to start appropriating them.

So if I understand you correctly, the only way to guarentee everyone rights is by no one having rights? Besides, there is already a power structure in place if you have the ability to "give" rights, so at that point it becomes irrelevant whether there are rights or not. And freedom isn't irrelevant if that's what you value. It's a matter of whether on balance you value economic (and I do specify) freedom above equality.


So a capitalist answer to these two questions would be:

1) Yes.
2) Yes. i.e. freedom/social mobility.

Your first answer speaks volumes. The second is more of an excuse than anything else, but the problem isn't your answer to it, it's the question itself that is problematic. Like if I was to say "will my family be harmed, and if so, will they be properly remunerated?" You ask an absolute in the first half, and follow it with something conditional and subjective in the second.

Yeah I agree, but it's not like you can have a theory without a questionable, vague, normative question or statement somewhere in the mix.
Wnope
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7/29/2011 1:27:32 AM
Posted: 5 years ago
At 7/27/2011 11:35:51 AM, Lasagna wrote:
At 7/27/2011 12:02:08 AM, belle wrote:
At 7/26/2011 8:44:52 PM, Lasagna wrote:
As I stated in the other morality thread, is there any practical application for this theory? Is it possible for many commoners to understand and implement it?

its more a theory of justice than everyday morality, but when it comes to issues of public policy, absolutely. all a person would have to do is ask:

(a) does it lead to inequalities of any kind?
(b) if so, are these inequalities offset by a benefit to the least well off members of society?

So then Rawls would be completely against anything to do with capitalism?

Far from it. The goal isn't "get every to have the same pay" or "stop certain people from gaining profit." It's to try to maximize the worst off. Rawls never specificed how this translated to policy, so your scale will impact how you view the Maximin.

Just because Rawls said nothing on policy, doesn't mean we can't draw conclusions.

A practical application would be, for example, discussing taxes. If you were a socialist or communist or whatever, your frame of mind would be trying to raise taxes on the rich and lower taxes for the poor so that they become equivalent.

Under Maximin, the goal of tax reform would be to bring the poorest into an acceptable standard of living. The frame would be "what is an acceptable standard" as opposed to "how do we make them equal."