The Good, the Right, and the Random

28 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2010 Last revised: 7 Apr 2010

See all articles by Peter C. Stone

Peter C. Stone

Trinity College (Dublin); Stanford University

Date Written: February 9, 2010


Whenever an agent must distribute a good among parties with equally valid claims, and that agent does not have enough of the good for all of them, justice demands that the agent break the tie randomly, using some sort of lottery. Why should this be? One possible answer is that if people have equal claims to a good, but cannot receive equal shares, then they should receive equal expected shares. A second possible answer is that when distributing a good between equal claimants, an agent must not favor one claimant over another for any reason. Lotteries, which actively exclude reasons from decision-making, are ideally suited to this task. This paper rejects the first answer (the expected shares argument) in favor of the second (the impartial treatment argument). Lotteries are important, not because they give people something valuable (equal expected shares), but because they treat people in a certain way (impartially). In other words, random selection makes a contribution to the right, not to the good. This conclusion has implications for how we ought to think about the demands of distributive justice.

Keywords: Equality, Good, Right, Lotteries, Justice

Suggested Citation

Stone, Peter C., The Good, the Right, and the Random (February 9, 2010). Western Political Science Association 2010 Annual Meeting Paper , Available at SSRN:

Peter C. Stone (Contact Author)

Trinity College (Dublin) ( email )

2-3 College Green
Dublin, 2

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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