The veil of ignorance suggests that when you’re thinking about how society should be organized, you should imagine that you’re ignorant of your particular place in the world – as if a veil were preventing you from knowing who you are.
This state of ignorance is called the “original position.”
For example, imagine that you’re the CEO of a company. You’re considering ending a remote working policy because you believe that your teams work better face-to-face.
As CEO, it may be easy for you to consider changing the policy from your perspective, especially if you don’t value remote working.
But the veil of ignorance forces you to view the policy change from the original position, where you could be any employee.
- What if you were a single parent?
- What if you were taking care of an elderly family member?
- What if you had a three-hour commute?
You may ultimately decide that the policy change is warranted, even after considering its broader implications.
But the veil of ignorance helps you appreciate the challenges it might present for your staff. It might even help you think of creative alternatives.
The veil of ignorance can be helpful beyond the workplace.
For example, say you’re analyzing a policy that affects refugees. From the original position, you have to consider what your perspective would be if you were a refugee yourself.
Would you change your view?
As McCann and Weinberg point out, the veil of ignorance reveals privileges that are easily overlooked.
McCann and Weinberg acknowledge that they themselves are lucky to have won the “birth lottery.” Generally speaking, they weren’t born into any disadvantaged group.
“At birth, we were no more deserving of an easier run at life than a child who was born into poverty, or with a disability, or any other type of disadvantage. Yet we are the ones who won this lottery since we do not have these disadvantages.”