Rawls A Theory of Justice according to Wikipedia, and by his own admission is 'strongly Kantian'.

A foundational point or axiom is his 'Veil of Ignorance' - the original position.

How can this notion, if it can, be formally derived from Kants Categorical Imperative?

3 Answers 3


The two "golden rules" are very similar, but Kant's is strictly deontic and nonconsequentialist. It may even be arguable that its deontic, theological perspective could mandate actions that are not necessarily "good" for a given society or even for "humanity" per se. It is notoriously ill-suited to a complex division of labor in civil society and hence criticized as an empty formalism by Hegel and others.

Rawls is not a consequentialist and is explicitly an opponent of utilitarianism. Nonetheless, his rules do seem more practical than idealist, with hints of a redescription of "state of nature" arguments. Nor are his rules commands to the "will" or eternal souls of individuals, even if no one is watching, so to speak.

To address the question more closely, Rawls derives the "difference principle" from the first two, I believe, and I am wondering if this principle is compatible with Kant's CI? Not obviously. And again, Rawls is generally addressing diverse behaviors where Kant addresses the "will."

The approaches all seem to be in the same spirit, along with Habbermas's "ideal speech situation," and are admirable alternatives to the flaws of utilitarianism. But "derivable"? I can't see them nested in that way. It seems to me hard to get anything from formal CI alone that is applicable to human practices here on planet earth.


I think one cannot derive the veil of ignorance from Kant's Categorical Imperative. Both do not contradict, but they follow different aims.

Rawl's veil of ignorance is a means to generate fair decisions in case of a conflict of interests. It can be used for all votings where the consequences of the result affect at least some of the voting people.

Kant's Categoric Imperative on the other hand states a formal condition which any maxime for action must have. The condition is a kind of universalization.

Hence both concepts live on different levels. But one can use the veil of ignorance when a group votes, whether a certain action adheres to the Categoric Imperative.


A categorical imperative is:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

If we compare the categorical imperative to the original position and the veil of ignorance, we can identify the use of the categorical imperative in Rawls's theory. When deciding which principles that will determine the basic structure of the society, Rawls is forcing the parties in original position to use the categorical imperative:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

with the help of the veil of ignorance.

Behind the veil of ignorance you are deprived of information about your ethnicity, social status, gender et cetera, and the only way to choose principles that will determine the basic structure of the society is with the categorical imperative. Because you want to put yourself in the best position possible, and not choose a principle, or law that will discriminate you or take away some of your human rights.

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