A philosophy webcomic about the inevitable anguish of living a brief life in an absurd world. Also Jokes

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John Rawls and the Original Position

John Rawls: "Hey Wolff."
Robert Paul Wolff: "Hey Rawls."
Rawls: "I came up with a great thought experiment to find the perfect way to figure out the basis of society, i call it the “original position.” "

Rawls: "The idea is to come up with the rules of society behind a “veil of ignorance”, that is, without knowing any facts about yourself, not even whether we will be smart or stupid, black or white, or what religion or ideas we will have."
Wolff: "Interesting."

Rawls: "That way we can design a society from no one's point of view. A society that a is just and fair for all."
Wolff: "Alright, let's give it a try."

Both together, rubbing their temples: "thinking, thinking, thinking..."

Rawls: "It turns out society should be pretty much the same! Except we should tax rich people like 6% more."
Wolff: "Wait...what? That's it?"

Rawls: "Yeah, rich people will still more or less run things, but we'll tax them, so it will still help the least favored overall. Why, what did you come up with?"

Wolff: "I thought we should have a classless society without hierarchies where everyone works together in freedom and cooperation."
Rawls: "No, that's wrong."

Rawls: "People aren't willing to bear the risk of disruption to change things that much."
Wolff: "I mean, sure...tenured professors aren't, maybe."
Rawls: "Nah, I'm pretty sure my intuitions are universal."
Would people from other cultures imagine a society more similar to their system? Yes, but I come from the correct system, so I'm the one who is correct.

Rawls famous Original Position thought experiment asks us to imagine a bargaining game to come up with the rules of society behind a "veil of ignorance", that is to say, without knowing anything about ourselves. The idea being this will allow us to come up with just rules to govern society that don't favor anyone. Rather remarkably, Rawls thought the result of this would be an extremely similar society to the one he was in, with a few adjustments to make things more fair. Robert Paul Wolff, the other philosopher in the comic, whose lectures on Rawls you can find here on YouTube, thought this was more or less because tenured philosophy professors, who live quite comfortable privileged lives, tend to be conservative about changes to society. He thought Rawls was more or less using the thought experiment, ironically given its nature, to defend the status quo from which he personally benefited. He thought many other people throughout history have risked their lives for justice, and if you asked them, they might imagine much more radical changes from an original position, such as an anarchist society. Also, presumably if you asked people from an anarchist or communist society to enter the thought experiment, they would not want to reinvent market capitalism.

It should be noted, however, that later in life Rawls did defend some form of market socialism, where the economy more or less resembles what we have now but companies are structured as cooperatives where they are owned by their workers. He was even open to more democratic control of production. However, even this is a far stretch from Wolff's view of ultimately abolishing hierarchy, property, money, and the market itself.

Rawls famous Original Position thought experiment asks us to imagine a bargaining game to come up with the rules of society behind a "veil of ignorance", that is to say, without knowing anything about ourselves. The idea being this will allow us to come up with just rules to govern society that don't favor anyone. Rather remarkably, Rawls thought the result of this would be an extremely similar society to the one he was in, with a few adjustments to make things more fair. Robert Paul Wolff, the other philosopher in the comic, whose lectures on Rawls you can find here on YouTube, thought this was more or less because tenured philosophy professors, who live quite comfortable privileged lives, tend to be conservative about changes to society. He thought Rawls was more or less using the thought experiment, ironically given its nature, to defend the status quo from which he personally benefited. He thought many other people throughout history have risked their lives for justice, and if you asked them, they might imagine much more radical changes from an original position, such as an anarchist society. Also, presumably if you asked people from an anarchist or communist society to enter the thought experiment, they would not want to reinvent market capitalism.

It should be noted, however, that later in life Rawls did defend some form of market socialism, where the economy more or less resembles what we have now but companies are structured as cooperatives where they are owned by their workers. He was even open to more democratic control of production. However, even this is a far stretch from Wolff's view of ultimately abolishing hierarchy, property, money, and the market itself.

Philosophers in this comic: John Rawls, Robert Paul Wolff
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