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Is Fairness in the Eye of the Beholder? An Impartial Spectator Analysis of Justice

Konow, James (2006): Is Fairness in the Eye of the Beholder? An Impartial Spectator Analysis of Justice. Published in: Social Choice and Welfare , Vol. 33, No. 1 (June 2009): pp. 101-127.

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Abstract

A popular sentiment is that fairness is inexorably subjective and incapable of being determined by objective standards. This study, on the other hand, seeks to establish evidence on unbiased justice and to propose and demonstrate a general approach for measuring impartial views empirically. Most normative justice theories associate impartiality with limited information and with consensus, i.e., a high level of agreement about what is right. In both the normative and positive literature, information is usually seen as the raw material for self-serving bias and disagreement. In contrast, this paper proposes a type of impartiality that is associated with a high level of information. The crucial distinction is the emphasis here on the views of impartial spectators, rather than implicated stakeholders. I describe the quasi-spectator method, i.e., an empirical means to approximate the views of impartial spectators that is based on a direct relationship between information and consensus, whereby consensus refers to the level of agreement among actual evaluators of real world situations. Results of surveys provide evidence on quasi-spectator views and support this approach as a means to elicit moral preferences. By establishing a relationship between consensus and impartiality, this paper seeks to help lay an empirical foundation for welfare analysis, social choice theory and practical policy applications.

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