Calibration Dilemmas in the Ethics of Distribution

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Abstract
This paper presents a new kind of problem in the ethics of distribution. The problem takes the form of several "calibration dilemmas," in which intuitively reasonable aversion to small-stakes inequalities requires leading theories of distribution to recommend intuitively unreasonable aversion to large-stakes inequalities—e.g., inequalities in which half the population would gain an arbitrarily large quantity of well-being or resources. We first lay out a series of such dilemmas for a family of broadly prioritarian theories. We then consider a widely endorsed family of egalitarian views and show that, despite avoiding the dilemmas for prioritarianism, they are subject to even more forceful calibration dilemmas. We then show how our results challenge common utilitarian accounts of the badness of inequalities in resources (e.g., wealth inequality). These dilemmas leave us with a few options, all of which we find unpalatable. We conclude by laying out these options and suggesting avenues for further research.
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First archival date: 2020-06-01
Latest version: 3 (2020-06-02)
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2020-06-01

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