Volume 2, Issue 2, 2002
Behind the Veil of Ignorance
The paper examines consensual contractarianism John Rawls proposed in his A Theory of Justice, and develops the following criticism. The veil of ignorance device requires but cannot secure the neutrality of the primary goods. In the Rawlsian ‘original position’ of contract, the only relevant information the hypothetical choosers are allowed to have is that they all prefer to have some ‘primary goods’ rather than not to have any, and that they prefer to have more rather than less of the primary goods. This stipulation entails that the ‘primary goods’ are neutral with regard to the diverging preferences of the choosers. In other words, for the Rawlsian contract to yield acceptable results, neutrality of the primary goods must hold. It cannot, however. Hence Rawls’ account of a consensual contract is untenable. The paper suggests that the difficulty is not rooted in the particular features of the Rawlsian theory but in the very idea of a consensual contract.