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John Rawls (1921—2002) American philosopher

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veil of ignorance

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A hypothetical state, advanced by the US political philosopher John Rawls, in which decisions about social justice and the allocation of resources would be made fairly, as if by a person who must decide on society’s rules and economic structures without knowing what position he or she will occupy in that society. By removing knowledge of status, abilities, and interests, Rawls argued, one could eliminate the usual effects of egotism and personal circumstances on such decisions. Rawls maintained that any society designed on this basis would adhere to two principles: the principle of equal liberty, which gives each person the right to as much freedom as is compatible with the freedom of others, and the maximin principle, which allocates resources so that the benefit of the least advantaged people is maximized as far as possible. Rawls’s exposition, and the maximin principle in particular, have proved widely influential in discussions of welfare provision and, especially, the allocation of medical resources.

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