**This is from guest blogger Cole, D.**
In his initial description of the veil of ignorance and what it blocks out, Rawls makes an extensive (although admittedly incomplete) list of the things that the person behind the veil of ignorance does not know. A lot of them make perfect sense and help strengthen his argument. For example, he specifically says that the person behind the veil does not have personality traits such as a penchant for gambling. This helps strengthen the usage of the maximin principle; if the person was wont to gamble recklessly and was allowed to have this quirk behind the veil, they might opt to formulate a tyrannical society in hopes of landing the top position.
However, I found one of the elements of the veil that he cited to be problematic: “I assume that the parties do not know the particular circumstances of their own society. That is, they do not know its economic…situation or the level of civilization…it has been able to achieve,” (638). First of all, this seems wholly unnecessary. What sort of effect would knowledge of one’s society have upon the entirely rational person’s decision that would lead them to reject justice as fairness and the maximin principle? It just seems odd that he would include this, but make no mention of the agent’s knowledge of their gender being of any importance. This inclusion seems to counter no objections and only cause problems. If the person behind the veil had no knowledge of his or her society, they might decide upon a heavily redistributive economic situation. In practice, this could be entirely unfeasible. Consider a society in which food, knowledge, and general goods are bountiful in nature and free for the taking, with a very low, very spread-out population with a universally-practiced religion which dictates that its practitioners only take as much as they need and never enslave others. In this society, redistribution would be nonsensical; if anyone could take what they wanted without negatively affecting anyone else, redistribution would do far more harm than good. Note that I am not arguing against redistribution here—in fact, I am generally highly in favor of it. However, Rawls’s inclusion of a limitation on societal knowledge seems to be a definite flaw in his thought experiment, as some hypothetical societies would not benefit from it at all. I am interested in if anyone was able to deduce a reason or come up with a defense for Rawls’s inclusion of this counterexample.