How does Rawls characterize the original position?

Q: How does Rawls characterize the original position? Are there ways in which the Difference Principle is compatible with the Ethics of Care? In what ways can the two theories conflict with one another?

The original position is a central feature of justice as fairness, designed to be a fair and impartial point of view to be adopted in reasoning about the principles of justice. Rawls principles describe an agreement that is fair among all parties in a hypothetical social contract (Freeman, 2018). The original position is that no one knows their place in society, social status, or even class position (Reamer, 2016). The parties are unaware of their race, gender, and education, etc. The parties are not ignorant of the facts involved in each scenario. In an original position, an individual is likely to choose either a principle of a robust package of liberal rights to freedom or one that ensures fair equality of economic opportunity. Other features include:

  • The parties are behind the veil of ignorance.
  • The parties are about the people they represent.
  • The only thing the parties know about what makes life pleasant is that they need primary social goods.
  • The parties know the people they represent have psychological limits.

The difference principle requires that a society institute the economic system that would make the least advantaged class better off (Freeman, 2018). Both the ethics of care and difference principle exhibit responsiveness as ethical qualities of care. According to the Ethics of care, the caregiver is concerned with conditions of vulnerability and inequality (Lamont, Julian, and Christi, n.d.). The difference principle also pays attention to the vulnerable, intending to make them better off than taking everyone in a similar situation.

The ethics of care believes that context can sometimes overrule justice and our universal code of conduct. Ethics of care addresses the moral importance of relationships with families and groups and how societies respond to a situation or person requiring care. With Ethics of Care, someone does not need to be poor or disadvantaged to benefit. An individual might be rich yet get considered as deserving more than a poor in the Ethics of Care because they were simply in a situation that deserved the benefit. Without expectations or relationships, the ethics of care would hold less significance, whereas the difference principle would still require each party to act in a certain way. In other words, the difference principle is like a defined rule, while the ethics of care only applies based on context, and there are no defined rules on the responsibilities of each party.


Freeman, S. (2018). Rawls on distributive justice and the difference principle. Oxford Scholarship Online

Reamer, F. G. (2016). The ethics of care. Social Work Today Magazine.

Lamont, Julian and Christi Favor, “Distributive Justice”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.