Tyndareos’ wager, the Trojan war — and Rawls’ veil

How do you marry off the most beautiful woman in the world? King Tyndáreos, stepfather to Helen — of Trojan fame — was at a loss. How could he not offend the many suitors of Helen? There was Ajax and Odysseús, Menestheús and Menélaos and many more, each bearing gifts and seeking her hand in matrimony. There was talk of murder in the air among those inevitably to be rejected. But Odysseus made a deal: if Tyndareos was to help him woo and win Penelópe, he would provide the king with a solution to the suitors’ game…

So before giving away Helen, Tyndareos made all of the suitors swear solemnly to defend whoever was chosen against anyone who would challenge the husband. Menelaos came out on top. Until Paris came to Sparta — the oath was called and the Greeks set sail for Troy.

Doesn’t Tyndareos’ stratagem remind of John Rawls’ idea of justice as fairness? Rawls argued that his principles of justice — our equal rights to basic liberties, equal opportunity to obtain “offices and positions”, or the requirement that any inequality ought to benefit the worst-off in society — would have been the natural outcome of a Gedankenexperiment in which we all had to decide on which type of society we want while each of us was unaware of our different personal characteristics and where we would ourselves end up — a slave or a plantation owner — after we had designed society.

The social contract is a commitment device – or vice versa.

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