Original position  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The original position (OP), often referred to as the "veil of ignorance", is a thought experiment developed by American philosopher John Rawls to discover the principles that should structure a society of free, equal and moral people. Rawls claims that his Principles of Justice would be chosen by parties in the original position.

In the original position, you are asked to consider which principles you would select for the basic structure of society, but you must select as if you had no knowledge ahead of time what position you would end up having in that society. This choice is made from behind a veil of ignorance, which prevents you from knowing your ethnicity, social status, gender and, crucially, your individual idea of how to lead a good life. Ideally, this would force participants to select principles impartially and rationally.

In Rawls's theory the original position plays the same role that the "state of nature" does in the social contract tradition of Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and John Locke. The original position figures prominently in Rawl's 1971 book, A Theory of Justice. It has influenced a variety of thinkers from a broad spectrum of philosophical orientations.

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