Original position arguments and social choice under ignorance

Thijs De Coninck, Frederik Van de Putte*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

John Rawls famously argued that the Difference Principle would be chosen by any rational agent in the original position. Derek Parfit and Philippe Van Parijs have claimed, contra Rawls, that it is not the Difference Principle which is implied by Rawls' original position argument, but rather the more refined Lexical Difference Principle. In this paper, we study both principles in the context of social choice under ignorance. First, we present a general format for evaluating original position arguments in this context. We argue that in this format, the Difference Principle can be specified in three conceptually distinct ways. We show that these three specifications give the same choice recommendations, and can be grounded in an original position argument in combination with the well-known maximin rule. Analogously, we argue that one can give at least four plausible specifications of the Lexical Difference Principle, which however turn out to give different recommendations in concrete choice scenarios. We prove that only one of these four specifications can be grounded in an original position argument. Moreover, this one specification seems the least appealing from the viewpoint of distributive justice. This insight points towards a general weakness of original position arguments.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
JournalTheory and Decision
Early online dateMay 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thijs De Coninck is a PhD fellow of the Research Foundation–Flanders supported by a fundamental research Grant (1167619N). Frederik Van De Putte’s research was funded by a grant from the Research Foundation-Flanders (FWO-Vlaanderen), no. 12Q1918N, and by a grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO), No. VI.Vidi.191.105. We are indebted to Allard Tamminga, Stefan Wintein, Diderik Batens, Marcus Pivato, Nathan Wood, Pawel Pawlowski, Marina Uzunova, Federico Faroldi, and three anonymous referees for helpful comments on previous versions of this paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).

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