Egalitarianism under Severe Uncertainty

Philosophy and Public Affairs 46 (3):239-268 (2018)
Authors
Alex Voorhoeve
London School of Economics
Thomas Rowe
Virginia Tech
Abstract
Decision-makers face severe uncertainty when they are not in a position to assign precise probabilities to all of the relevant possible outcomes of their actions. Such situations are common—novel medical treatments and policies addressing climate change are two examples. Many decision-makers respond to such uncertainty in a cautious manner and are willing to incur a cost to avoid it. There are good reasons for taking such an uncertainty-averse attitude to be permissible. However, little work has been done to incorporate it into an egalitarian theory of distributive justice. We aim to remedy this lack. We put forward a novel, uncertainty-averse egalitarian view. We analyse when the aims of reducing inequality and limiting the burdens of severe uncertainty are congruent and when they conflict, and highlight practical implications of the proposed view. We also demonstrate that if uncertainty aversion is permissible, then utilitarians must relinquish a favourite argument against egalitarianism.
Keywords uncertainty  equality  decision theory  Pareto Principle
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Reprint years 2018, 2019
DOI 10.1111/papa.12121
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