14th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Rowe

Thomas Rowe

Ambiguity and fairness

How should conditions of ambiguity affect a decision-maker’s judgments about distributive fairness? This paper argues that conditions of ambiguity should sometimes be exploited in order to facilitate distributive fairness. Severe uncertainty is the predicament where a decision-maker only has enough information to make a partial or imprecise judgment. This is termed ambiguity when the context is that of empirical-factual judgment. Ambiguity, as a form of severe uncertainty, will be the focus of this paper. The paper focuses on ambiguity with respect to probabilistic information when making a distributive decision under conditions of uncertainty. The ethics of distribution under risk (when the decision-maker has a good basis for assigning probabilities to possible events) has been extensively studied. But in real-world cases, a decision-maker does not have such a basis for assigning probabilities. For example, when evaluating climate policies it is often extremely difficult to obtain precise probabilistic information about the likelihood of particular future impacts. The ethics of distribution under conditions of ambiguity has been far less studied. The paper consists of three parts. The first part considers two distributive examples involving varying levels of ambiguity where a morally-motivated stranger has to decide how to distribute an indivisible good between two equally deserving individuals. A set of reasonable preferences that a decision-maker ought to hold in these examples is then outlined and defended. The second part outlines three potentially problematic implications which flow from these reasonable preferences. The third part outlines an egalitarian approach to explain these preferences, and to accommodate these implications.