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Journal Article

Choices of Principles of Distributive Justice in Experimental Groups

Norman Frohlich, Joe A. Oppenheimer and Cheryl L. Eavey
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 31, No. 3 (Aug., 1987), pp. 606-636
DOI: 10.2307/2111285
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2111285
Page Count: 31
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Choices of Principles of Distributive Justice in Experimental Groups
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Abstract

Experimental methods involving imperfect information are used to generate group choices of principles of distributive justice. Conditions approximating John Rawls's "original position" in A Theory of Justice serve as the starting point, and his conjectures are contrasted with those of John Harsanyi. Three "predictions" implicit in the Rawlsian argument are tested: (1) individuals choosing a principle of economic distribution would be able to reach unanimous agreement; (2) they would always choose the same principle; and (3) they would always choose to maximize the welfare of the worst-off individual. Our results indicate that individuals reach consensus, strongly reject the minimax principle, and largely choose what Rawls has called an "intuitionistic" principle. Overwhelmingly, the chosen principle is maximizing the average income with a floor constraint: a principle which is a compromise between those proposed by Rawls and Harsanyi. It takes into account not only the position of the worst-off individual but also the potential expected gain for the rest of society.

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