Does Rawls consider inborn abilities an important determinant of social status? I haven't read his entire text in A Theory of Justice, but when he mentions the veil of ignorance, is he considering social status more or less a matter of fate?

If by "fate" you mean out of your control, then I think Rawls would have answered your first question: "Yes and no". Your social status is determined by elements out of your control such as the aptitudes you are born with, the lucky or unlucky breaks that come your way, and the manner in which the society into which you are born values certain talents or activities over others. But it's also true that your social status is partly determined by your efforts: it's always up to you whether to give everything you own away. I agree with Allen that the reason those behind the veil of ignorance do not know their social status is that this knowledge would influence which principles of justice they would favor, and indeed "that misses the point of the veil." But what is its point? Well, one thing to say is that it's designed to make sure that those behind the veil do not make use of morally irrelevant information when selecting principles of justice. One's social status is morally irrelevant precisely...

If, as George Washington said, "All government is force," is not resistance to government a necessary and morally superior corollary to resistance to force in general?

That may be a corollary to the general claim that one ought to resist all force. But is the general claim true? Presumably, the thought behind the general claim is that all force is morally wrong and so resistance to it is morally permissible if not required. But is all force morally wrong? This is one way of casting the central topic in political philosophy: whether, and if so under what conditions, the state could have the right to use force over individuals to compel compliance with its commands. Anarchism takes the answer to be No. Utilitarian and social contract approaches believe the answer is Yes: under certain conditions, the establishment of a state that wields power over individuals can be justified. (See Question 452 for some references.)

Is there such thing as true freedom? (My thought is that only in an anarchist society there would be-meaning that even the slightest rule or law would detain one's freedom to do as one pleases...)

It's worth distinguishing between what one is free to do and what value to one that freedom has. Perhaps you're right that in a world in whichthere was no political society (a State of Nature, as some politicalphilosophers call it) we would be free to do many more things than weare now (since no laws would exist that restrict our freedom). But the worth of those freedoms would be very small. Yes, we'd be free to travelwherever we wanted (without the need for passports, etc.), but mostlikely, absent the security that a political society provides, thelevel of industrial development would be so low that there would be nocars, no planes, no roads, etc. Even if there were roads, it would beso very dangerous to set out on them that I wouldn't dare risk it.Whereas now, my freedom to travel is worth something to me: I can drive(I have a car, I can buy fuel for it, there are roads!) confidently tothe airport (there are airports!) and take a plane (there's anaerospace industry!) to Reykjavik. The freedom to...

How can we rationalise societal condoned killing like war and execution. Is our collective conscience so bereft of compassion that killing others in the cold light of day is ok, especially if our peers say it is?

I'm not sure those who hold that is is just to kill or execute people under certain circumstances believe this simply because "our peers say it is". That might explain why some people have formed this judgment, but it doesn't tell us why we ought to form the judgment, that is, tell us what's to be said in the judgment's defense. (See Question 367 for more on why this would be a problematic argument.) If you think it's wrong, it's worth trying to say why it's wrong. To begin with, you might try to get a sense of the contours of your moral judgments? For instance, do you think we're also "bereft of compassion" to deprive individuals of their freedom? For the remainder of their lives? For five years? Perhaps you'd be interested in Debating the Death Penalty , a collection of essays arguing both sides of the case.

What is the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? For example, in South Africa "terrorists" in the full definition of the word were reconsidered as freedom fighters after the regime change. Is it in this case (and in others) characteristic of the academic philosopher profession to simply repeat the view of the status quo?

If a terrorist is someone who seeks to achieve his goals either by terrorizing innocents or through the threat of such terror and a freedom fighter is someone who is engaged in a struggle to liberate a population from a tyrannical ruler, then some terrorists have been freedom fighters and some have not, and some freedom fighters have failed to be terrorists. If "terrorist" refers to someone who's adopted a particular means and "freedom fighter" characterizes someone on the basis of his goals, then it's only to be expected that such cross-classification will arise. These definitions are quite coarse, can't be expected to be useful in describing the complexities of real world situations, and also are misleading in encouraging the thought that the technique of terrorizing innocents is one that is primarily adopted by individuals, when arguably the more notable instances of such misdeeds are committed by governments. Political discourse would be clarified if the labels were dropped and we sought to...

I've been wondering a long time about this and I can't come up with an answer. Hopefully you can help me. What is the point of government?

The short answer that many political philosophers (such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, John Rawls) have offered is that we are all far better off in a civil society structured by basic institutions (legal, economic, political) that constitute the government than we would be if we were left on our own. Hobbes and Locke called the condition in which man does not live under a government the State of Nature. Both believed that living in the State of Nature was far more uncomfortable and dangerous than living under a government. In fact, Hobbes famously wrote (in his Leviathan ) that life in the State of Nature would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short".

On the issue of gay marriage. What do philosophers think about the definition that politicians are suggesting should go into the constitution that marriage is the union between a man and a women? Is the definition valid?

It's not easy to say what makes a definition right or wrong. There's a descriptive facet to it; for instance, if a dictionary were to define "apple" tomean "the fifth letter in the alphabet", they'd just be wrong becausethey'd be unfaithful to how that word is actually used. On the otherhand, there's a prescriptive facet to the task: dictionaryeditors don't write their entries based on a simple poll of speakers.It could be the case, after all, that many people are just wrong about what a word means. Butwhen politicians are debating about "what 'marriage' means" I don'tthink these fine points about semantics and what goes into a correctdefinition are usually uppermost in their minds. The topic of "what'marriage' means" is usually a euphemism for the question of what legalrights, economic advantages, and degree of approbation our society isprepared to bestow on gay couples.

Why is it that adults preach about democracy and how great it is when really if you're under 18 your parents are like dictators?

This might be taking your question too narrowly, but how about this: democracy is a form of government that places political power in the hands of citizens through their right to vote. But not all citizens are given a vote: five-year olds aren't, the mentally deranged aren't. In particular, if you haven't reached what used to be called "the age of reason", you are denied a vote. So, if your parents are all gung-ho for democracy, but insist on grounding your 15-year-old self on a Saturday night, well, that might be really irritating, but it's not inconsistent. Parental rights over children usually lapse at the same time that their child acquires the right to vote. Coincidence? No. Parents have a right and a duty to make decisions for their children until they have reached a level of maturity and intelligence at which they can be held responsible for their decisions — and once a person has reached that level, democracies should extend him/her the vote.