What is veil of ignorance

Published 18 Apr 2017

The veil of ignorance or original position is simply stripping away the biases and prejudices we use to make a decision. This will allow for a less judgmental approach to justice. For example, if my best friend stole my enemy’s bike, I may be less likely to request a punishment than if it were two people with which I had no personal ties.

This approach will make for an unbiased form of punishment. The main moral issue is to make the law more just and equal because there are many prejudices and biases that exist based on gender, income, race, sexual orientation and religious affiliation. However, this veil of ignorance is unjust because biases sometimes enable us to empathize with someone and to come to a moral judgment because of not in spite of our bias. The term voir dire, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary is a preliminary examination to determine the competency of a witness or juror. If I had my sibling hit by a drunk driver, I would want someone who had a sibling, or relative hit by a drunk driver. It would be easier for that person to empathize with my situation.

The veil of ignorance is void of emotion. It is also void of knowledge. If I had no bias or knowledge of a situation, then I as a lender would loan money to everyone equally and not judge anyone on past performance of payment or credit rating. The veil of ignorance is void of common sense. Under such a guise, I would be equally willing to entrust the keys to my humble abode to a stranger than to a family friend.

The veil of ignorance is not fair or just. Is it fair to anyone who had entrusted their money to Enron? Millions of dollars were lost in this scandal. Many investors were behind a veil of ignorance. There are internet scams as well. If I have no knowledge of scammers, I may willingly give money to such people. Ignorance literally means without knowledge and I shutter to think of what life would be like if this approach was the basis of living. Many of our decisions are made based on experience or bias. I have heard advice given on several occasions that use biases to make a decision. I have heard mothers say to their children that if they get lost in an outing to find a mommy.

Such a bias may have saved some children from falling into the hands of a child predator. Parents often warn of not hanging with the wrong crowd and such sayings as ‘birds of a feather flock together’ are around for a reason. What if someone had a stolen car? Should he discriminate whom to call to catch the criminal, a policeman, vigilante or a mobster? What if I am to choose a class speaker for graduation? Would I randomly choose a senior or someone who is eloquent and comfortable in front of others? In representing our country for the Olympics, will I choose someone who has won several medals or randomly choose someone who plays the sport? These are just a few examples of how the veil of ignorance does not work in the real world, where we use our biases and prejudices to make rational decisions on a daily basis. We make every decision from what to purchase to whom to befriend based on biases and prejudices.

This is how we get through life. It is the common thread that finds the needle in the haystack. We cheer for teams because they are ours. Can you imagine how drab a game would be if it were played without bias? Would you want to attend or watch it? Could you imagine who you would be based on the tabula rasa of existence? Descartes stated that he could take any child and make her what he wanted her to be. Imagine having no natural knack for anything. Who would you be? Where does individualism drift away to? We would live in a world of monotony and drones of automatons would devour our mere existence. We would lose the very essence of life. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness would be but a faded notion, for what is there to pursue if creativity and self actualization were a pagination of yesteryear? What would one look forward to? On the other hand, certain biases are harmful, such as pure hatred based on race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and religion, to name a few. The holocaust was a very tragic event and cost many their lives based on ignorance. AIDS, originally called the ‘gay disease’ cost many their jobs, families and friends, based on ignorance.

Feminism would not exist or such organizations as the NAACP would not exist if there was not ignorance. Mentally and physically challenged citizens would not be pitied and misunderstood if such biases did not exist. All men are created equal? Not on your life! Such detriments are an injustice to society as a whole. There are those with ‘new money’ and ‘old money’. Such trivial distinctions are acrimonious at best. A society with such biases is insipid. There is little moral fiber. Is there a moral majority or is there a moral minority? Is it fair that if someone commits a crime that he may not be prosecute because his father is the mayor? Should Mr. Tolliver get the job over Mr. Rogers because his grandfather is the CEO of the company, even though Mr. Rogers is more qualified?

Society is obsessed with lifestyles of the rich and famous simply because they are rich and famous and we somehow equate that with familiarity. As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. Our disdain for their ‘perfect’ lives sells many tabloids. We are eager to wait and watch when the other shoe drops. We feel happier inside because the ‘God-like’ quality has somehow dehumanized them to us. Celebrities seem to be above the law and beyond our reach. Misery loves company and while many will continue to pursue the ‘American dream’ or eat humble pie, there is no apple pie-ty. Our biases add gasoline to the ever-burning fire and there are many casualties along the way. This ‘take no prisoners’ approach to living is not really living at all. The divide and conquer theory is effortlessly at grazing the grasses of greed, chauvinism and subservience.

The veil of ignorance is cloaked by humanity. We can not always base our decisions on theories. We are not philosophers. We are living, breathing, thinking, emotional beings with pasts, presents and futures. Every now and then, it would be just to turn the other cheek and be a good Samaritan, but every now and then would be the only rational times to do so. I once heard that we make mistakes; that’s why there are erasers on pencils. We make mistakes and sometimes we even grow from them. I could not imagine skipping childhood and going straight to adulthood. The precarious years of being an adolescent are instrumental in becoming a responsible adult. Our parents make their decisions based on their bias and prejudices, sometimes for the better; sometimes not. John Rawl’s theory has its place, as a hypothesis, not an application. We should definitely be cautious of inappropriate biases and partially put this theory into practice. We do not want to live a ‘lottery’ life, letting the chips fall where they may.

We like to have some control over what we are doing and pursuing. We like to let our gifts, talents and aptitudes guide us to enriching and fulfilling lives. We like to have a reason to get up in the morning. We want to look forward and not back. We want to choose our friends, our mates, our lives. The true American dream is choice. Choice comes from conclusions we draw based on our experiences. We cannot hide behind a veil and pretend our biases have no influence, but we can conclude that the nature of our influences creates and maintains our individuality.

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