Within the organisational development people’s arguments rise from their personal or group interests, which in turn are based on the systemic differentiation of society and technology at a given time. We face a crucial issue: Must we accept separated group interests as inescapable circumstances, or can we reach out for universal human interests? This chapter addresses the issue combining Rawls’ idea of an original position behind a veil of ignorance with Habermas’ concepts of communicative rationality and discourse.
Rawls (1973) derives his theory of justice, justice as fairness, through a very simple but powerful concept of rational choice in an ideal ‘original position behind a veil of ignorance’. His aim is to derive principles of justice that equal, rational persons would agree on when they do not know their share of the utilities ensuing from the principles and their social circumstances or personal characteristics. The veil of ignorance guarantees the universalisation of the principles. When the participants do not know their social position or any personal characteristics, they are in a position to think of the principles from the generalised position of any rational decision maker. They can only make their decision with regard to the principles of justice, not their contingent natural fortune (p. 18). Rawls sees the original position as a procedural interpretation of Kant’s categorical imperative (p. 256).
Their rational choice will then be to define justice as fairness. Rawls (1973) derives two basic principles of justice. (1) The principle of liberty says: “Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for other” (p. 60). (2) The difference principle states: “Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged and (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity” (p. 83, also p. 302). Accordingly, the optimum configuration of economy is achieved at the maximum point of the least advantaged members. The principles are arranged by two priority rules: (1) According to ‘the priority of liberty’, liberty can only be restricted for the sake of liberty. (2) According to ‘the priority of justice over efficiency and welfare’, the equality of opportunities is prior to the welfare of the least advantaged (p. 302). Partly due to the criticism of his ‘Theory of Justice’, Rawls gave up the central role of the above two principles in his work Political Liberalism (1993) without abandoning the idea of the original position. (For discussion on Rawls, see Freeman, 2003). Rawls’ later work expanded the view from the rules of a democratic state to the rules of nations (Rawls, 1993) and between nations (Rawls, 1999), so his views have hardly been discussed at all in a limited organisational context, which is our aim in this paper.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Categorical Imperative: (Kant): “So act that the maxim of your will could always hold at the same time as the principle of universal legislation” (Critic of Practical Reason, A, 54).
Discourse in an Ideal Speech Situation: The participants have symmetrical and equal chances to express their opinions and raise questions about any issue.
Veil Of Ignorance: A person makes his or her ethical choice without knowing his or her share of the utilities ensuing from the principles and his or her social circumstances or personal characteristics.