Principles of Collective Choice and Constraints of Fairness

Why the Difference Principle Would Be Chosen behind the Veil of Ignorance

Originally published in The Journal of Philosophy

In “The Difference Principle Would Not Be Chosen behind the Veil of Ignorance,” Johan E. Gustafsson argues that the parties in the Original Position (OP) would not choose the Difference Principle to regulate their society’s basic structure. In reply to this internal critique, we provide two arguments. First, his choice models do not serve as a counterexample to the choice of the difference principle, as the models must assume that individual rationality scales to collective contexts in a way that begs the question in favor of utilitarianism. Second, the choice models he develops are incompatible with the constraints of fairness that apply in the OP, which by design subordinates claims of rationality to claims of impartiality. When the OP is modeled correctly the difference principle is indeed entailed by the conditions of the OP.

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