The Harsanyi-Rawls debate: political philosophy as decision theory under uncertainty

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Social decisions are often made under great uncertainty – in situations where political principles, and even standard subjective expected utility, do not apply smoothly. In the first section, we argue that the core of this problem lies in decision theory itself – it is about how to act when we do not have an adequate representation of the context of the action and of its possible consequences. Thus, we distinguish two criteria to complement decision theory under ignorance – Laplace’s principle of insufficient reason and Wald’s maximin criterion. After that, we apply this analysis to political philosophy, by contrasting Harsanyi’s and Rawls’s theories of justice, respectively based on Laplace’s principle of insufficient reason and Wald’s maximin rule – and we end up highlighting the virtues of Rawls’s principle on practical grounds (it is intuitively attractive because of its computational simplicity, so providing a salient point for convergence) – and connect this argument to our moral intuitions and social norms requiring prudence in the case of decisions made for the sake of others
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Archival date: 2021-06-28
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