The Veil of Ignorance –
The Original Position and Social Contract Doctrine
There is no doubt in my mind that the original position on social contracts and social justice had more of a limited role in most models. I know that for certain, it became a doctrine that served as an authority for the legitimacy of sociopolitical power or authority. Once written and explained, many versions popped up with variances that suit the various needs of government as well as social circles around us.
Since a social contract is a non-binding contract and rather based on customs and practices, there was no fear of anything or anyone gaining absolute power that would enforce certain elements of such an understanding. One thing must be explained before we go further and that is to mention the fact that these principles can only be applied to men and women who are equal, free and able to articulate the justice in their societies. Certainly, those who are not equal, free or unable to comprehend would not be able to fully execute these principles in true spirit as violations would be frequent and arbitrarily imposed.
By now, if you followed the writings so far, you can see how a social contract may in fact facilitate a venue or window for assessing existing laws or by-laws and allows these assessments to evaluate their effectiveness or appropriateness to be applied to the citizens who require and demand social order for the common good. Keep in mind the original position of such a contract was to determine and assess the justice of political constitutions which in part impacted various elements of government beginning with the economic, national security and internal social arrangements of a body. What started as a reasonable base for rational conduct or behaviors could be elevated to recognize lawful or unlawful behavior and practices, either for the good of all or for the conduct towards one or another in a court of law.
Thus we see how the concept of social justice can be expanded to accept larger roles in our lives and in the way we establish law and order. It could be argued that the original position was really never about social justice but merely a social base for justice. To infer to say that justice is predominantly social does not mean that people do not have “natural” moral rights and duties outside society or in non-cooperative circumstances, based purely on relationships and associations.
Again, the goal here was to establish a social interaction and level of cooperation that had reciprocity built into it so that there are mutual gains and reasons for an organized society rather than a loose and irrational capacity to run a lawless or disorderly society, much like mindless animals do when in a herd, pack or group. Although this category of society may be mindless, they would still remain natural and entitled to basic rights, claims etc. forming conflicts as this undermines the main point of the idea of a state of nature in many views, which is to distinguish their powers and competencies they have prior to joining or belonging to a legitimate membership in society.
Not being members of some society is not an option for us. In so far as we are rational and reasonable beings at all, we have developed as members of a society, within its social framework and institutions. So although the original concept was set forth mainly as a foundation of moral significance, the expansion of the social contract allows an adequate span of control of the state of nature or society as long as it retains an adequate level of impartial judgment and the equality of persons. In theory, this social contract would benefit all who are free.
I hope you are following this evolution of the social contract into what is evolving into a more complex understanding of principles and moral judgment. What has changed here is the ability to convert a personal sociopolitical idea or theory to of an individual’s ability to regulate himself or his family to a more state-like regulation that includes a political constitution to abide by.
“This constitution regulates rules that are perceived to be fair and impartial in nature but are dedicated to bring about legislation and enforcement of laws and the system of trials for adjudicating disputes; the bases of the economic system, including the norms of property, its transfer and distribution, contractual relations, etc. which are all necessary for economic production, exchange, and consumption; and finally norms that define and regulate permissible forms of the family, which is needed to perpetuate society.” (Rawls)
Thus the roles changed and the power has shifted. Under this social contract, it is the “primary role to apply those principles of justice to specify and assess the system of rules that constitute these basic institutions, and determine the fair distribution of rights, duties, opportunities, powers and positions of office to be realized within them.” (Rawls)
What makes these institutions and their arrangement the first subject for principles of social justice is that they are all necessary to social cooperation and have such profound influences on our circumstances, aims, characters, and future prospects. No society could exist without certain rules of property, contract, and transfer of goods and resources, for they make economic production, trade, and consumption possible. (Rawls)
In concluding this writing, it must be maintained that a social contract is only as good as the fairness and justice provided to be impartial and without biases when principles are executed by men in the name of justice. One can see the perverted impact and negative effects of corruption by men who seek more power and authority in such instances and opportunities. This is the number one problem today in our society. Power, authority, greed and gluttony for more are the base for corporate and individual corruption.
Once we submitted our own authority, ability to control reasoning and provide an extension of such an authority, we essentially signed over all control with the exception of a few basic human rights maintained by law and not society in a whole. Losing leverage of our own decision making process and giving it to the politicians has created chaos and unfortunate crisis in our national health systems, national security, economic base and our demographics related to cultural diversity, customs and practices with many political ramifications rather than justice as it was originally intended at the beginning of forming a binding social contract.
The following works by John Rawls are cited above.
[TJ] A Theory of Justice, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Revised edition, 1999. The page citations refer first to the 1971 edition first, and the revised edition thereafter, as in (TJ 17/16).