The Fairness Test

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 22 2012 @ 8:23am

Benjamin Hale, a philosophy professor, contrasts two ways of thinking about fairness. Purveyors of what he calls the "veil of opulence" theory "may imagine themselves to be fantastically wealthy movie stars or extremely successful business entrepreneurs" and they "vote and set policies according to this fantasy." Instead, Hale, siding with John Rawls, holds to the "veil of ignorance" version of fairness:

If there’s one thing about fairness, it is fundamentally an impartial notion, an idea that restricts us from privileging one group over another. When asking about fairness, we cannot ask whether X policy is fair for me, or whether Y policy is fair for someone with a yacht and two vacation homes. We must ask whether Z policy is fair, full stop. What we must ask here is whether the policy could be applied to all; whether it is the sort of system with which we could live, if we were to end up in one of the many socioeconomic groupings that make up our diverse community, whether most-advantaged or least-advantaged, fortunate or unfortunate. This is why the veil of ignorance is a superior test for fairness over the veil of opulence. It tackles the universality of fairness without getting wrapped up in the particularities of personal interest. If you were to start this world anew, unaware of who you would turn out to be, what sort of die would you be willing to cast?