From risk to fairness

Kappes, A., Kahane, G. & Crockett, M. J. (2016). From risk to fairness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) ISSN 1091-6490, 113(42), doi: 10.1073/pnas.1614111113

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Kadcyla is a drug that extends the life of breast cancer patients by an average of 6 mo. It also happens to be incredibly expensive. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service sparked controversy when it refused to provide this drug to patients, citing its low cost effectiveness. Cases like this raise the question of how societies should make distributive decisions. Should we maximize utility or should we aim to improve the lives of the least fortunate, even if doing so is costly for everyone else? The influential philosopher John Rawls tackled this dilemma by framing fair distributive decisions as a kind of gamble (1). Rawls famously argued that we should choose the kind of society we would all prefer if our choice was made from behind a “veil of ignorance” — that is, under conditions of complete uncertainty about where we would end up. He held that people should make such choices by following a risk-averse “maximin” strategy of maximizing the minimum possible outcome for themselves and others. Echoing Rawls’s theory, new research by Kameda et al. (2) links risk and fairness by showing that preferences about risk and about distribution may arise from common psychological and neural substrates.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Copyright © 2017 National Academy of Sciences
Divisions: School of Social Sciences > Department of Psychology

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