Ben Davies
Oxford University
Sufficientarianism is a view of distributive justice that places importance on one or more ‘thresholds’, whereby those who are above the threshold have much weaker claims to additional benefits than those below, and may even have no claims at all. Hun Chung has recently argued for a new theory of distributive justice that overcomes two central problems faced by sufficientarianism. Sufficientarianism cannot give intuitively compelling answers to ‘lifeboat cases’, where we can save the lives of some but not all of a group, and fails to respect the axiom of continuity. Chung says that his alternative, ‘prospect utilitarianism’, gives correct answers to lifeboat cases, and respects continuity. What is more, his theory gets empirical support from work in economics on ‘prospect theory’. This paper does several things. Firstly, it shows that sufficientarianism can give the intuitively correct answer to lifeboat cases, and that prospect utilitarianism’s ability to do so is less compelling than Chung suggests. Secondly, it shows that the idea of continuity is not an axiom, and thus that sufficientarianism’s failure to respect it is not a good reason to reject the view. Finally, it shows that prospect utilitarianism faces some independent problems, since it too requires a threshold. Chung’s threshold is based on the idea of ‘adequate functioning’. The paper shows that there are problems with this as a threshold, and that it is not adequately supported by prospect theory. As such, the prospects for prospect utilitarianism are poor.
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