I ran across a great word a few years ago but I neglected to write it down and am hoping someone here will know it.

The word meant the ability to put one's self in or empathize with any category of people represented in a situation, esp. when the category in which one might reside is unknown or ambiguous. Thus, the word would be appropriate if one's belonging to a category might change (becoming a paraplegic, owing lots on student loans) but not if categories are unlikely to change (eye color, adult height, wealth). It was used in the context of social policy and people's ability to imagine themselves in any of the categories of people handled by the policy, to ensure that the policy was fair. It had connotations of even-handedness, fairness, and empathy; i.e., being aware that "But for the grace of God, that could be me". I'm not sure if it was an adjective or a noun.

A sample sentence: "Sen. Blorp was conspicuously lacking in >>word<<, as he disparaged the difficulty of making end-of-life decisions for a family member in a persistent vegetative state."

The word is not: empathy, equipoise, even-handed, fair, equitable. It is at least one step more obscure than these.

I feel like this description is lacking; perhaps questions will help me clarify it.

  • "Sen. Blorp was conspicuously lacking in insight/rapport/empathy/compassion/fellow feeling"? – chasly - supports Monica Nov 7 '15 at 2:13
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    Is it shoe-shifting? – ermanen Nov 7 '15 at 3:54
  • I had never heard of "shoe-shifting". While it's not the word I am trying to remember, it's a great word. Thanks! – hoopberry Nov 7 '15 at 19:05

It sounds like you are referring to Rawls' Original Position and the veil of ignorance.

The original position is a central feature of John Rawls's social contract account of justice, “justice as fairness,” set forth in A Theory of Justice (TJ). It is designed to be a fair and impartial point of view that is to be adopted in our reasoning about fundamental principles of justice. In taking up this point of view, we are to imagine ourselves in the position of free and equal persons who jointly agree upon and commit themselves to principles of social and political justice. The main distinguishing feature of the original position is “the veil of ignorance”: to insure impartiality of judgment, the parties are deprived of all knowledge of their personal characteristics and social and historical circumstances. They do know of certain fundamental interests they all have, plus general facts about psychology, economics, biology, and other social and natural sciences. The parties in the original position are presented with a list of the main conceptions of justice drawn from the tradition of social and political philosophy, and are assigned the task of choosing from among these alternatives the conception of justice that best advances their interests in establishing conditions that enable them to effectively pursue their final ends and fundamental interests. Rawls contends that the most rational choice for the parties in the original position are two principles of justice: The first guarantees the equal basic rights and liberties needed to secure the fundamental interests of free and equal citizens and to pursue a wide range of conceptions of the good. The second principle provides fair equality of educational and employment opportunities enabling all to fairly compete for powers and positions of office; and it secures for all a guaranteed minimum of all-purpose means (including income and wealth) individuals need to pursue their interests and to maintain their self-respect as free and equal persons.


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  • Yes, "veil of ignorance" is the concept that a person would follow; thanks! I thought the word I was trying to remember is more a description of a person who routinely takes such a view, but maybe it was just "veil of ignorance" itself. – hoopberry Nov 15 '15 at 14:14

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