Thomas Rowe


This paper offers a novel account of how complaints of unfairness arise in risky distributive cases. According to a recently proposed view in distributive ethics, the Competing Claims View, an individual has a claim to a benefit when her well-being is at stake, and the strength of this claim is determined by the expected gain to the individual’s well-being, along with how worse off the individual is compared to others (Voorhoeve and Fleurbaey, 2012: 397). If an individual is at a lower level of well-being than another, their claim to a given benefit is stronger. On this view, the strength of individuals’ claims are a function of their comparative well-being levels. In this paper, I instead argue that competing claims obtain only when a particular relationship obtains between the fates of individuals: that one individual’s gain is at the expense of another. This is a particular complaint that obtains when the fates of individuals are tied together in such a way that inequality that is to the detriment of the person who is worse off is guaranteed (or likely) to obtain. I demonstrate that this complaint arises only when individuals are exposed to a particular type of risk that allows some to gain only if others lose. As such, I propose that complaints of unfairness occur less frequently than we might think if we take the Competing Claims View to be true. A purely comparative view is unable to account for this unique complaint of unfairness. I argue that this complaint is not only independently plausible, but can serve as a foundation for a more general account of competing claims complaints.