Impersonal Envy and the Fair Division of Resources

Philosophy and Public Affairs 46 (3):269-292 (2018)
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Suppose you and I are dividing a cake between us. If you divide and I choose, then—under standard assumptions—the distribution will be not only fair, but also envy-free. That is, neither of us prefers the other slice. The question that interests me in this essay, however, is the relationship between envy and fairness. Specifically, is it merely a coincidence that the envy-free distribution is fair, or does envy-freeness capture something important about fairness? I argue that envy-freeness does indeed capture something about fairness. Yet, envy-minimizing—the compromise approach—does not. I first show that fairness does not plausibly require envy-minimizing; I then offer an explanation. Namely, envy-minimizing depends on the assumption that all envy is normatively equivalent. This assumption, however, is false. To illustrate, I introduce two types of envy—personal envy and impersonal envy—and show that impersonal envy is normatively significant in a way that personal envy is not. Specifically, impersonal envy is compatible with the rules of mutual justifiability; personal envy is not. I then use this distinction to explain the relationship between fairness and envy-freeness. In the process, the essay provides guidance on the fair division of heterogeneous and non-divisible goods.



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Kristi A. Olson
Bowdoin College

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Egalitarianism defended.Larry S. Temkin - 2003 - Ethics 113 (4):764-782.

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