Sunday, September 29, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- Rawls Original Position

What is the " original position"? Explain the pros and cons of Rawls theory.

The original position is a concept by philosophers who believe that man thoughtfully and rationally entered into a social contract in order to establish societies. Again, it ignores the realities of evolution, sociology, primatology and et cetera. But, in defense of these individuals, most of them were unaware of those specialties at the time they developed their theories. In fact, the specialties did not exist at that time.

From an article:
1. Inequalities are just only when conditions of equal opportunity obtain.
2. Conditions of equal opportunity obtain only when a person's fate is not determined by morally irrelevant factors.
3. One's fate is not determined by morally irrelevant factors only when it is determined by one's choices and efforts.
4. One's fate is determined by one's choices and efforts only if it is not determined by social circumstances.
5. Therefore, inequalities are just only when not determined by social circumstances.
End article quote.

Let me restate these in easier words

1. The only time it is fair for people have unequal states of existence in our society, like one being rich and one being poor, is when they both had an equal opportunity to attain wealth. In other words, they both had a fair chance at being rich but one was just better in doing so. That's fair.
---- So you have to have a chance.

2. But even assuming that, it's only fair if a person could have helped himself but chose not to. It isn't fair that someone is rich because he was born handsome and his society favors handsome people without their deserving it and the other person is poor because he was ugly and his society just really hates ugly people. Those were not choices they made. Neither condition is their fault or a result of their efforts.
---- So you have to have a choice.

3. You must have a choice and have made that choice well or badly for the result to be just. If it happened to you by luck or by things out of your control, that isn't just. If you're rich because your parents were rich, you don't deserve to be rich. If you're poor because your parents were poor, you don't deserve to be poor. You didn't get to choose your parents.
---- So you have to actually make that choice, and get the reward or the punishment you deserve for making that choice.

4. Social circumstances shouldn't be what made the difference for you. You may have made choices, and you may have the opportunity to do so, but it still is unfair if society is prejudiced against you because of, let's say, your dark skin. Even if you make good choices, you still can't get the reward you deserve because of prejudice. That is not just.
---- So, if you did all of the above, it isn't fair if society was prejudiced for or against you so you got more or less than you deserved.

5. So, it's only fair that there are inequalities in a society if you get to do ALL of the above.

Rawls says okay to these five, but then he adds his own.

From article.

6. One's fate is determined by one's choices and efforts alone only if it is not determined by one's talents and abilities.
7. Therefore, inequalities are just only when not determined by a person's talents and abilities.

End article.

Or to put it in easier words,

6. You didn't get to choose your talents or abilities. If you're good at math you'll do really well in a society that loves math. But if you're not good at math, that's not your fault, and you shouldn't be punished for it.

7. So inequalities are only fair if they don't have any thing to do with your natural talents. So football players shouldn't make more of money than me just because they were born with a talent for being good at sports and I'm was always bad at at them, no matter how hard I tried.

But, that means all kinds of things. I mean, people might make bad choices because they are not smart enough to make good choices, or because their brain is wired so that they are more impulsive than other people so they make bad choices because of the brain wiring etc. etc. etc. In other words, if we accept Rawls two add-ons, then nobody should ever be unequal. Everybody should be exactly equal. I hate to say it, but that's the silly dream of communism which proved to be so impossible to apply because it was so contrary to human nature

Rawls also had an interesting point he called the veil of ignorance.

Rawls points out that other philosophers who have used the concept of the original position assume that everybody gets together in a society or a potential society and decides what the rules will be, thus establishing a social contract.

He points out that strong and powerful people will simply bully or beat others into agreeing to rules they don't really want to accept. Clearly, this negates the supposed contract. If you do something because a gun or a sword is pointed at your head, you haven't really agreed at all.

He says that instead of simply sitting down and talking about things in an open way, we should apply what he calls the veil of ignorance. Everyone agrees to what the rules will be without knowing what their position in the society will be. You're not allowed to determine how much wealth you will have, how intelligent you will be, etc. This way, you make sure that everyone in the society is protected because you might be in any of the positions. Who would agree to include slavery in society if you might be the slave?

The idea behind this is the same as the idea behind the secret ballot. No one can bully you into voting for a certain presidential candidate, because no one knows which way you voted.

Rawls' strong points. He's right that people will succeed or fail even in making good choices because of things that are beyond their control. He also really wants to make society just. He's really right about that whole veil of ignorance thing. If everybody knows they're going to be in a certain position in society, they'll do everything they can to make that position protected and safe.

Rawls' failings. Considering the power that things not under our control have upon us, including the very structure of our brains, there is no way to have a fair society by Rawls' standards unless everybody is equal and inequality totally ceases to exist.

The original condition is a silly fantasy in the light of modern scientific findings. Even monkeys and apes have carefully structured societies including cultural behaviors. There never was a social contract in the sense of people sitting down and deciding what things would be like. It was only human beings, highly evolved social animals, interacting with each other and thus creating a society. No conscious decision-making was ever required. Sometimes we did consciously decide things, like writing the U.S. Constitution, but not usually.

I find Rawls inability to deal with the findings of modern science unexplainable and inexcusable. He died in 2002. How could he have ignored psychology, primatology, sociology, well, you know the long list. But he did ignore them. This is inexcusable. If a philosopher ignores the findings of science, why should anyone pay any attention to him?

I recall one philosopher who sincerely believed that things fell to the earth because little angels from Heaven pulled them down. However silly that may sound today, in the Middle Ages, before the theory of gravity, it made as much sense as anything else. But for someone to say that is true today, well, that person would be just being silly.

The idea that we can ever make inequalities fair is, I think, the fundamental flaw of all the philosophers dealing with this issue. In a truly ideal world, wouldn't we all be equal? But the fact is that human nature makes us want what's best for us and for our kids even if that hurts other people and their kids.Since there's only so much stuff to go around, obviously some people will get more than others. It may be a sad fact, but it is a real fact.

The Star Trek universe imagines a world where machines can reproduce anything, therefore everybody apparently is equal. But, even in that universe, some people obviously occupy positions of social superiority. Like starship captains compared to ordinary crewmen. So is that society really so perfect?

Let me add in defense of Rawls, we do have a social contract today. We all do because we live in democratic societies and we agree to follow by the rules of that society, rules made by the people we elect to office . But it's not as if we really have a lot of choice. Even in America, where we created the Constitution, we have radically altered its original intent. Women, Blacks, poor men, are all now allowed to vote. And we even get to vote for our own Senators instead of letting the state legislators pick them.

But, even Thomas Jefferson said we have to throw the Constitution out every 19 years because he felt that no man should be forced to live in a society where he did not get to vote for the basic rules of that society. We don't do that. So you can argue that our our social contract has been forced upon us

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this. And I agree with a lot of what of what you're saying. Especially the absurdity of Rawls' original position not including non humans despite all that science has shown us even during his lifetime, let alone since then.

    Some interesting thoughts here. Thanks for posting.