Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Information for Professor Avraham's talk.

Anyone who has taken a class with Professor Avraham knows he relies heavily on the ex-ante/ex-post distinction. Here is a good article that really fleshes out the philosophical significance of the ex-ante/ex-post distinction. Professor Avraham gave me his take on the distinction recently: "If something is fair ex-ante and unfair ex-post, it is fair, I argue."

This is not the paper Professor Avraham will be discussing at the upcoming meeting, but I found it really eye-opening and it is the reason I invited him to come speak. I'm posting it here in case anyone wants to discuss it.


Brook Miscoski said...

Among other things, I was interested in the idea that "luck" may result in "punishing" a generally non-negligent person while a generally negligent person is never held liable, all because "luck" determines when an injury occurs. Ex-post--simply looking at the two individuals--the situation seems unfair. Ex-ante, it would seem this is still fair, since a reckless person still has a higher expected cost for his behavior.

But of course the reality of the matter is that many of us behave similarly in matters of care, so that ex-ante our expectations are the same, while ex-post similarly situated people are treated differently.

It seems that Avraham would say this is "fair" as long as there is no prejudice in the application of standards (this is assuming I read correctly).

I think it is interesting to consider that when it comes to traffic and parking tickets this kind of analysis makes sense to most people, but when it comes to harsher penalties or liabilities, we might have some serious empathy for the people who end up bearing liability. The idea that our attitudes might change with the stakes seems important.

The concept that people can avoid at all times negligence is ludicrous, perhaps because negligence itself is not defined well enough to allow for the actual capacities of humans. My guess is that if we are supposed to take a liability rule as fair because we are equal before it ex-ante, we would also like the rule to reflect, ex-ante, our actual capacities. We're pretty forgiving about law and policy when the stakes are low, so we don't think about it too much in those cases. But when stakes are high, there's another story.

Esfand Nafisi said...

Here's a useful link on luck: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justice-bad-luck/

By the way, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a excellent resource.