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A Thought Experiment

“The Veil of Ignorance” is a thought experiment proposed by philosopher, John Rawls, that reveals the biases in our perspectives and the inequalities in our societies, organizations, and institutions. In the experiment, one is asked to think about, for example, their ideal society. Think about as many aspects of the society as you can from different government and economic systems to income, gender, sex, race, jobs, healthcare, convictions, beliefs, education, rights etc. Is your society looking rather idyllic? 

 

The catch is, that now you have to imagine your ideal society from behind the veil of ignorance, meaning you have no idea where you will be born into this new society. Would you be happy to live in your ideal society at any level, in any position, given any possible set of circumstances? Are you confident your society would treat you well in any possible position or circumstance? Would you be afforded all of the rights of everyone else in your society?

 

If there are any people of any group in your imagined society not living in circumstances you would be willing to live in yourself - not afforded the freedoms, respect, or autonomy - you would expect for yourself, then the experiment has revealed a bias and/or inequality…or possibly several. 

 

Now look at our society as it is today and repeat the exercise. Would you be willing to enter our society today from behind the veil of ignorance? 

 

Pick a title or two to read from the list below, and then repeat the exercise.

 

 

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