Boston College / Challenge of Justice
Michael Sandel / Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?
and Videos in connection with topics in the book
Reading Questions – Chapters 68
1) What is Rawls’s Veil of Ignorance thought experiment? What is he trying to
If we all didn’t know what lot we would have in life, our values and principles
would be extremely different. It is to show people what they would want for
themselves if the tables were turned.
2) Rawls approaches justice as a kind of fairness. What’s required for Rawls to
have fairness? What do you think is required?
Rawls idea of fairness depends on the “social contract” (a hypothetical agreement
in an original position of equality. He thinks that from this contract, we would
want equal basic liberties and social/economic equality.
3) For Rawls, what are the limits of contracts?
1. The fact of an agreement does not guarantee the fairness of the agreement.
2. Consent is not enough to create a binding moral claim.
4) What does a contract imply? What are the power issues in contracts? What
do you think might be both the advantages/strengths and
disadvantages/weaknesses of contracts?
They carry moral weight as long as they have autonomy (are voluntary) and
reciprocity (mutually beneficial.) Contracts are not selfsufficient moral
instruments. An ideal contract would have equal parties, who were equally
knowledgeable and situated; there would be no unfair advantages. However, there
is no “veil of ignorance,” so this ideal is impossible.
5) For Rawls, what are consentbased and benefitbased obligations?
Consentbased obligations involve holding up my end of the bargain even without
any benefit or reliance.
Benefitbased obligations involve repaying a benefit or compensating you for the
work you did on my behalf.
6) What is the “maximin”? What is the “difference principle”? The “maximin” is the principle about how the system should be designed to
maximize the position of the people who are the least advantaged in a system.
The “difference principle” is only allowing social and economic inequalities to
exist as long as they work to the benefit of the least advantaged members of