Hey, Angry Bear, weren’t you blogging about Rawls?
In the meantime, Matthew Yglesias has some thoughts on the issue:
I don’t think that’s really the best way to think about the issue [AB note: here, Matt is referring to my claim that “The open question is whether people behind the Veil of Ignorance really would choose to structure society in a way to maximize the minimum of well-being”]. It’s better to see that the purpose of the original position is to provide a formal model for a conclusion reached on independent normative grounds. In other words, Rawls sets up the original position the way he does because he thinks it leads to the conclusions he favors, and not the other way around.
I agree that Rawls likely had his Principles of Justice in mind first (it may well be documented in some of his writings), and then searched for a theory to justify them–a search that lead to the Veil of Ignorance/Original position argument. If this sounds backwards, it is–from a scientific method perspective. However, Philosophy is expressly normative, not positive, so this is not a weakness in Rawls’ approach.
In any event, if you are trying to use Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance to make a point, as Will Bailey and Eric Alterman recently did, I think you would start with the Veil and then try to get to the conclusion, in a Socratic fashion, not the other way around.
Matt’s site allows comments (something I should add someday), and his readers have interesting things to say. For example, a reader going by the name Ogged says “Not to put too fine a point on it, but you’re right, Bear’s wrong”, while an anonymous commenter says “Original postion deliberation doesn’t obviously lead to either Minimax *or* equal considerations of liberties. Why shouldn’t I be willing to swap unequal liberty (given some minimum: I’m not a slave, etc.) for a chance at more money?” This second commenter is making a statement about preferences and risk aversion, which I’ll talk about in my next (and final?) post on Rawls.