What does “arbitrary from of a moral point of view” mean?
From Handout: “Rawls wishes to reject accidents in natural endowments and contingencies of social circumstances from forming the basis of institutional discrimination(These accidents in natural endowments are not themselves necessarily unfair)”
The distribution of goods should not be unequally partitioned on the basis of arbitrary means.
In the current iteration of American society, morally irrelevant characteristics are one of the primary deciding elements in the allocation of basic primary goods. These characteristics include, for example, race and ethnicity. Those who are better off in today’s society are in such a position because they are perpetually favored throughout social institutions. They are born into a basic structure which normalizes the preferential treatment they receive.
Unfortunately, though the contrapositive of this situation is also just as true; if one receives less in the basic structure of society, they are the least well off, and further, society doesn’t allow, or makes it much more difficult, for someone who initially receives less to become of the party which ultimately receives more.
Although the rags to riches narrative is the embodiment of the American Dream, it is unsurprising if the disposition of someone’s initial state is only removed a few degrees from the ultimate state they wish to achieve. For example, if a white man is born into a poor neighborhood, he already possesses the gender and color of skin optimal to climb the social ladder of society, and further, any aspirations he has to make a better life for himself is almost expected. Yet, a woman of color born into a poor neighborhood is not only, in the eyes of society, not expected to rise above her current state, she is the subject of institutionalized discrimination throughout the society she is a part of.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, I am just trying to iterate the point that systemic oppression expects more of those who it favors, and less of those who it doesn’t. In many ways, our American society is similar to caste systems of medieval times — at least that’s the way many better-off conservatives regard America’s society. This point is a bit controversial, and quite unsupported, so I will get back to my main argument.
Rawls makes a very good point about the genesis of our moral judgements when he remarks, “when we try to simulate the original position in everyday life, that is, when we try to conduct ourselves in moral argument as its constraints require, we will presumably find that our deliberations and judgements are influenced by our special inclinations and attitudes.” (127) This is precisely why the veil of ignorance is a necessary condition when considering the morality of a situation. Thus, “From the standpoint of moral theory, the best account of a person’s sense of justice is not the one which fits his judgements prior to his examining any conception of justice, but rather the one which matches his judgements in reflective equilibrium” (43), where this reflective equilibrium is condition that the veil of ignorance imposes.
From these ideas, we can gather that a “moral point of view” is quite a subjective ideal, yet under a veil of ignorance, morality heads towards an objective definition. How a man would want to be treated, what portion of the fruits of society’s labor he thinks he deserves himself, should be equivalent to the rations that others receive as well. Any inequalities can further be justified by the difference principle, which does the job of disallowing favoritism of the better off by requiring compensation of the inequality to go toward the least well off to balance things out.
Thus, a randomized person would not want their skin color, gender, sexuality, etc. to be discriminated on because there is such a large variance in each of these categories, if not at least a binary. Since no man would want these characteristics of his own to be the basis of discrimination, they ought to be thought of as arbitrary.
If you have any arguments, questions, comments about my thoughts please leave them below! This is a mere reflective writing exercise with the means to reiterate information I am trying to let digest from my reading of A Theory of Justice by John Rawls.