To be well ordered, a society must establish the rights and duties of its members and also determine a just way of distributing “the benefits and burdens of social cooperation”

The Veil of Ignorance

Rawls proposes a thought experiment: the principles are determined from an original position in which each person is hidden behind a veil of ignorance. People must agree to the principles before they know what place they will hold in society; they are ignorant of their sex, race, ethnicity, wealth, intellectual capacity, physical abilities or disabilities, and so on. Thus, Rawls claims that agreements reached from this initial condition would be fair because they could turn out to be in a disadvantaged position in society relative to others

Rawl proposes that rational people behind the veil of ignorance would decide on two principles of justice (Rawl’s Difference Principle)

  1. Each person has a fully adequate number of basic rights as long as these are consistent with everyone else having these same rights
  2. If social and economic inequalities exist, it is for one of two reasons:
    1. Associated with societal positions anyone has a fair opportunity to assume
    2. They benefit the least-advantaged members of society the most

See also: social contracts, Social Contract Theory