The expression "Ignorance is Bliss" is best known from the classic work "A Theory of Justice" (1971) by the moral philosopher John Rawls, although its origin is much older.

The central idea of "A Theory of Justice" is the "veil of ignorance". Rawls asks the reader to imagine that representatives from a fictional society are taken behind the veil of ignorance, which hides their race, gender, class etc. In this way, they are deprived of their defining characteristics. They view each other as free and equal persons, rather than rich or poor, male or female, etc.

When these ideal and ignorant people have to bargain, the veil of ignorance will make them impartial, even when they bargain out of self-interest. Rawls proposes two principles that all bargainers will agree on out of self-interest. First of all, all participants will agree on the greatest liberty possible, to maximize their chances. Secondly, the bargainers will want all social and economic inequalities to be adjusted to the benefit of the least well off, because each one of them may be the poorest of the poor when the veil is removed.

This second principle, known as the difference principle, was revolutionary. It would be irrational, Rawls reasoned, for people behind the veil of ignorance to permit gross inequalities of income, because they might very well be members of the least advantaged classes. The result of the difference principle, Rawls concludes, is that liberty must be limited to provide the greatest benefit to the poorest classes of society.

Nowadays "Ignorance is bliss" has become a catch-phrase that is quoted in very different contexts. E.g. in the movie "The Matrix" it is quoted by Cypher in his discussion with Agent Smith.