Now imagine that you were about to be born into human society. Imagine further that you have absolutely no idea at all as to where in that huge human society of over 7 billion people you will emerge. Hold onto those thoughts. Now, given that your arrival place in human society is totally random what would you hope that society to look like?
John Rawls, an American philosopher writing in the 1970s, suggested just such a way of thinking as a way of defining a just society. Rawls suggests that
“a just society is a society that if you knew everything about it, you’d be willing to enter it at a random place”.In this simple exercise Rawls neatly overcomes our tendency to look at at issues and analyse them with a great deal of personal prejudice. How often is our vision of society shaped by our own wants, needs and preferences? Those wants, needs and preferences are in turn shaped by our culture, upbringing, education and our ideological, philosophical and religious beliefs.
Rawls though, in his thought experiment, encourages us to think of the good of society as a whole, since by doing so we would care not where in that society we emerged.
Americans would opt for a more egalitarian society if given the option. I wonder if those of us in the richest 20% of the World would do the same? To check out where you sit on the World’s rich list, try this.