If You Want To Fix Society, Imagine Life As A Fetus

If You Want To Fix Society, Imagine Life As A Fetus

John Rawls' Original Position is one of the most valuable thought experiments in political philosophy, it's simple, yet effective, and that's the beauty of it.

I remember sitting in my Critical Thinking class back when I was a freshman in college and absorbing every detail that I learned. That class was amazing to me because it opened my eyes to ethics, epistemology, and expanded my horizons on political thought as well. I don't remember much details about who all we read about and what books we covered, but I remember John Rawls.

John Rawls was a political philosopher in the 20th century who designed a thought experiment to conclusively determine what policy to draft and what kinds of laws would be fair and just. He published this idea in 1971 in his book "A Theory of Justice." The premise of the experiment was this: imagine that you are an unborn fetus, but you know everything you do now, except what class you will be born into, what race you will be, what gender or sex you may be, etc. Your identity is hidden from you, essentially. You then must imagine what conditions in society would be the fairest because you do not know what you will be born into, and you would want to ensure that you would be born into a good life. This was called the "Original Position."

The logic behind this is that without knowledge of one's placement in society, they would have an objective position to examine legislation, policy, and morality. Everyone is a "citizen," not a female citizen, or a black citizen, but simply a citizen. Everyone is on equal ground in the experiment and has no potential identity ties to bolster, and because everyone is essentially in one group, consensus and good policy can spring forth from the thought experiment.

Take this situation, for example, "What conditions would be just in society to ensure that marginalized citizens have an equal opportunity to citizens who are better off?" You might come to the conclusion of providing government services to the marginalized groups to ensure that they are protected, or you may think that more investment should be made into the human capital of all citizens so that everyone has a firm basis and equal investment opportunity. Both of these positions are valid, and they are logical and constructive because we are looking at the issue from a reflexive position, stepping back from our person and analyzing as a metaphysical outsider.

Not only does the original position allow for civil dialogue and constructive discourse, but it may also generate empathy for others as one can imagine how they would feel in another place. It also provides a common baseline to establish a society from because the original position almost always guarantees civil liberties, equal rights, and democracy as constants in the ideal society.

However, the original position is not without its problems. It does not take into account different objective ways of thinking about solutions. Take the situation I mentioned above. Disagreement can be found in it because some may say that government policies may intrude upon the rights of citizens outside the marginalized group, while others may purport that because the interest and need of the marginalized groups are greater, the dominant groups can afford to be intruded upon.

This is mainly an economic issue, too. Some may prefer more collective control to solve problems while others look for more market solutions or any other method of control. These ideas are not tied to one's ethnic, sexual, or social identity and may still be incorporated into the original position logically. Although the original position is designed for everyone to arrive at similar conclusions, it may not always be the case on every issue.

However, the benefits of the original position outweigh the deficits of it. No society is perfect, and we may have our disagreements about how to solve problems, but the original position can give us insight into an objective viewpoint of society and give us all a common baseline to development societal norms and policy from. Also, because of our ignorance of societal position, we may be more sympathetic and open to other ideas that may be presented. The original position increases mutual understanding and cooperation and is a wondrous thought experiment to partake in. It is beautifully simple, and it is an important step in the democratic journey that we should bring attention to again. John Rawls' work was dynamic and completely changed the face of political thought in his time, and his ideas will stand the test of time because of their objectivity and simplicity.

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