The Veil of Ignorance- Taking a Philosophical Approach to Green Politics

Central to the political stance of the Green Party of England and Wales is the statement:

“Conventional political and economic policies are destroying the very foundations of the wellbeing of humans and other animals. Our culture is in the grip of a value system and a way of understanding the world which is fundamentally flawed”*

This translates in to such things as increased taxation on the highest earners, abolition of the use non-dom status, the closing of of tax loopholes to significantly decrease the number of tax loopholes which can be exploited for personal gain.

Typical responses for why people should not vote Green is that this will mean increased taxation for many, when other parties understand that they have worked hard for their money so the should keep it.

But a ‘thought experiment’ (taking an idea and imagining its consequence if it were real life) helps to illustrate why the Green Party is the best vote for social justice. The thought experiment is known as ‘The Veil of Ignorance’ originally proposed by John Rawls**, and as it is explained try to imagine the consequences and how you might act.

Imagine yourself a ghost or a soul getting ready to inhabit a body, in a new world, with many other souls, who all want the best life for themselves. In this state you know nothing about the body you will inhabit; your natural abilities, your position in society; your sex, race, nationality, or your mental or physical abilities (or disabilities). You may inhabit the body of the least advantaged person in society, but your knowledge over what body is behind a veil of ignorance. Not knowing what the lottery of life will give you how will you choose to arrange society? What do you think you would want to make sure was in place to ensure you had the best possible chances in life, irrespective of your start?

For me, this perfectly summarises how so many Green policies are born.

Equality does not mean treating everybody the same; it means identifying the differences between people and trying to level the playing field. For the Green Party this means providing adequate and decent council housing, it means looking after the planet so that we leave it in the way that we would want to give to our children, or our loved one’s children.

There are costs to some in this kind of society, where freedom and fairness are in direct conflict; the fairness of some will be at the cost of the freedom of others.

we cannot and should not deny this! We proudly say that we aim for a fair society, and for the common good; we aim to build the world that the person behind the veil of ignorance would choose, because that is the one that is fair and just and gives as many as possible the opportunity to live a good life and maximises the wellbeing of humans.

* You can see the full basis of the Green Party philosophy here:
** There is a good Wikipedia piece on The Veil of Ignorance here:


The word belief should never be used in a religious context- A Socratic dialogue

Blaise Pascal: “What have you been up to, Bertie?”
Bertrand Russell: “Oh you know, mainly logical mathematics and stuff, you Blaisey?”
Blaise: “Why, it’s Sunday morning I have been in my house of worship, praising the God above for all of his work!”
Bertrand: “Like ebola and mass hunger in Africa?”
Blaise: “No Bertie, this is not God’s will but he has given us the tools to help us overcome these scourges. And, I believe that those who die, so long as they believe in God, will be saved, so it all happens for a greater good!”
Bertrand: “If I may ask, Blaise, Why do you believe in God?”
Blaise: “I just do, and I am of the opinion that I should believe because if I’m wrong…”
Bertrand: “For once, Blaise, can you stop banging your ‘wager’ drum! But that’s not why I ask the question.”
Blaise: “Well, as I say I just do; I feel it to be true therefore I believe.”
Bertrand: “Do you believe that some apples are red?”
Blaise: “Why, yes of course I do”
Bertrand: “And why do you believe in this?”
Blaise: “Because I have seen apples, Bertie, obviously.”
Bertrand: “just so, my friend. You see them. Do you believe that you like the smell of coffee?”
Blaise: “Why yes, the smell of coffee is most pleasing to me, so I believe this to be true, where are you going with this mon ami?”
Bertrand: “Bear with me old sport. Do you believe that a loving mother, on hearing her baby cry will come running?”
Blaise: “If she is able to, of course a mother will do this!”
Bertrand: “If someone was to cut you, do you believe that this would hurt?”
Blaise: “Of course, I pricked my finger just this morning, and it is still sore now!”
Bertrand: “You believe all of these things based on what?”
Blaise: “Well as you have obviously alluded to, based on what I see, hear, feel, smell. You did not say taste, but you could have, eh? I believe these things based on my senses. Ah, I see where you are going now, you wily old fox Bertie! You are saying I can only believe these things for which I have sensory evidence!”
Bertrand: “Well since you mention it, yes this is what I think.”
Blaise: “Any my belief in God is unfounded!”
Bertrand: “Unfounded from a sensory evidence perspective, yes. But, who knows, you may be right. But can you say you believe in a god?”
Blaise: “I have faith, which is to believe. Also, I feel it, like the knife stabbing in to my skin; here is your sensory evidence!”
Bertrand: “OK, Blaise, will you join me for a thought experiment? Yes? I would like you to imagine that you have suddenly got head lice, that even as we speak they are crawling about your head, you want to scratch your head to try and get rid of them as their small legs scamper about on your scalp. Blaise, you have actually raised your hand to scratch your head, why so?”
Blaise: “My scalp! It feels itchy, you have made me feel itchy all over with your mind Games Bertie!”
Bertrand: “You feel that you have head lice, do you believe this to be true?”
Blaise: “Well I’m pretty sure I do not!”
Bertrand: “So you’re feelings deceive you at times! You believe the knife hurts because you see it enter the body, you see evidence of an injury, or a doctor does, and you feel it. Can a doctor see evidence of god touching you when you feel his presence?”
Blaise: “I do not think so, no.”
Bertrand: “And this is my point, dear friend, without measurable sensory evidence, whether our purely with our five senses, or through using equipment, like a microscope or an X-Ray, we cannot believe anything, we can only think it to be true, to be of the opinion that it exists, to have a religious conviction. Do you not now agree?”
Blaise: “This is purely semantics, I feel like I am talking to old Ludwig W!”
Bertrand: “It may be semantics, but it is an important difference. We should therefore avoid using the words believe, and beliefs when talking of religious conviction as these are not believes. You are fully entitled to hold your convictions about the existence of a god, as much as I am the existence of a teapot circling around the sun between Earth and Mars, but in both cases belief does not enter in to it.”
Blaise: “OK Berite, I will bend to your logic. I think that God exists.”
Bertrand: “That is most accommodating of you Blaise!”
If you enjoyed that one then try this one:

A new game show for the BBC: ‘it’s all Pointless’. A contemplation on Nihilism

Host Whoever: And welcome to the new show ‘It’s all pointless’ with your host, oh who cares!
The aim of the game, and for your chance to win our grand prize of £100,000 is to be the most pessimistic about the world as possible.
(Audience claps apathetically)
Host: So we have contestant one can you tell me why ‘it’s all pointless’?

Contestant 1: Well seeing as the universe is 4 billion years old, the 80 years we walk the earth is but an eyes blink of the universe; no matter what we do nothing truly changes as the universe will still be here long after you and I both die, so what the point!

Host: that’s pretty bleak contestant one- I’d say well done if I wasn’t struggling with the tedium of existence so much. So now contestant number two, tell my why ‘it’s all pointless’?

Contestant 2: scientists have calculated that there are 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets in the universe and we live on just one of them; on this universal scale we are less than a grain of sand on a beach, everyone you have ever known barely makes up one grain of sand on the beach that is the history of the universe. We are all utterly tiny and insignificant.

Host: chilling stuff there contestant 2! I can literally feel the absurdity of our insignificant existence weighing down on me as I trail off cos I can’t be bothered anymore! Contestant 3?

Contestant 3: time only exists because we perceive it, because we perceive light, if we were not perceiving that light then time ceases to exist and when time ceases to exist then everything ceases to exist as time is the ultimate reference point for anything in existence. This means that when you die you stop perceiving time therefore the universe ultimately dies with you. If the universe dies when you die then any action we take is ultimately utterly pointless!

Host: and there you have it ladies and gentleman all three of out contestants have given their answers and I can confirm that the judges have chosen contestant 3 as our winner and the winner of our grand prize of £100,000!
(Muted, unmotivated applause from the crowd)

Contestant 3: I won?! I can’t believe it- I never win anything! This is amazing, this is the best thing to have ever happened to me!!
(Loud siren goes off)

Host: oooh I’m sorry you have just lost your grand prize by not responding in a suitably nihilistic fashion, suggesting that you do see a point to things.

Contestant 3: what? But I couldn’t help it!

Host: I know despite it all our human minds can’t truly rationalise the absurdity of existence with an infinite universe, but instead finds happiness in the here and now, and the day to day. Utterly mundane I know. But on the bright side, if there is such a thing, the prize money has inevitably rolled over to next week. Do tune in again to see how utterly unable we as humans are of accepting the utter futility of life and instead ascribing meaning to our lives and actions. And don’t forget our competition for you guys at home. If anyone can come up with an alternative to ignoring the futility of existence and enjoying the here and now while you can as an answer to the existential concept of absurdity then you stand to win something once we can be bothered to find a prize. So far we have received no answers, but we do live in hope for some unfathomable reason! goodbye folks! See you next time if I can manage to find the modicum of motivation needed to turn up!