Max-Min, Ignorance of Talent, and Difference Principle

Parties derive principles of justice under the veil of ignorance (VI); it is assumed that the parties are not aware of certain types of specific facts. First of all, no one knows their social status, talents and abilities, intelligence, and strength. No one knows their concept of good, the particulars of their rational life plan, or even specific features. Parties have no information about their psychology, such as a propensity to take risks or a predisposition to pessimism or optimism. The contracting individuals should be impartial and, therefore, lack the knowledge that causes bias. They are not limited by any prior moral obligations in pursuit of their interests. They have rational autonomy; initial equality refers primarily to equal freedom, including equality of procedural rights and equality as a source of legitimate claims to public resources.

Under the VI, rational individuals in an initial choice situation will act in accordance with the maximin (max-min) strategy. It allows parties to prefer an alternative when the worst possible outcome is better than any other option’s adverse outcome. In other words, due to VI, the contracting individuals are aware that they can find themselves being wealthy and famous, or they can be thrown into poverty as soon as VI falls. In this situation, they have to adhere to risk aversion, choose actions carefully, and proceed from the likelihood of the worst-case scenario. Consequently, they will follow the maximin strategy, which assumes that in a situation of uncertainty, not knowing personal situation and talents, one should choose the option of behavior that gives the best result under the worst circumstances and thereby minimizes risk.

Parties will prefer the distribution of primary social benefits when they will receive the largest share, being in the least fortunate position. Thus, the individuals will try to choose principles that provide fair and favorable conditions for everyone, including themselves. Since everyone is in the same situation and no one has the opportunity to suggest principles that would improve their position, the principles of justice are the outcome of an agreement or deal. As a result, parties select the difference principle, which means that inequality is acceptable only when associated with the occupation of a position accessible to all – equal opportunity and benefits the most disadvantaged members of society.

Rawls aimed to develop a concept of justice that would provide a constructive alternative to utilitarianism. Following a Kantian conception, no empirical considerations, for instance, ideas of common benefit, well-being, or happiness, can serve as the basis of moral law and be a reliable guarantor of human rights and freedoms. Rawls bases his liberalism on the idea that individual rights and freedoms form an integral part of just social order. Justice is impossible without recognizing the autonomy of the human person and without giving every person the right to use his/her freedom. Hence, the rationale for individual rights is not that they maximize general welfare but constitute a necessary condition for justice. It reflects Kantian constructivism in ethics, focusing on the independence of the principles of justice from any concrete idea of the good of the individual and society.

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