Original Position Models, Trade-offs and Continuity

Utilitas 28 (3):254-287 (2016)
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John Harsanyi has offered an argument grounded in Bayesian decision theory that purports to show that John Rawls's original position analysis leads directly to utilitarian conclusions. After explaining why a prominent Rawlsian line of response to Harsanyi's argument fails, I argue that a seemingly innocuous Bayesian rationality assumption, the continuity axiom, is at the heart of a fundamental disagreement between Harsanyi and Rawls. The most natural way for a Rawlsian to respond to Harsanyi's line of analysis, I argue, is to reject continuity. I then argue that this Rawlsian response fails as a defence of the difference principle, and I raise some concerns about whether it makes sense to posit the discontinuities needed to support the other elements of Rawls's view, although I suggest that Rawls may be able to invoke discontinuity to vindicate part of his first principle of justice.



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Steven Daskal
Northern Illinois University

Citations of this work

The Rawls–Harsanyi Dispute: A Moral Point of View.Michael Moehler - 2018 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 99 (1):82-99.

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References found in this work

A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition.John Rawls - 1999 - Harvard University Press.
Alienation, consequentialism, and the demands of morality.Peter Railton - 1984 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 13 (2):134-171.
Morality and the Theory of Rational Behavior.John Harsanyi - 1977 - Social Research: An International Quarterly 44 (4):623-656.

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