The varieties of impartiality, or, would an egalitarian endorse the veil?

Justin P. Bruner, Matthew Lindauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Social contract theorists often take the ideal contract to be the agreement or bargain individuals would make in some privileged choice situation (i.e., an ‘original position’). Recently, experimental philosophers have explored this kind of decision-making in the lab. One rather robust finding is that the exact circumstances of choice significantly affect the kinds of social arrangements experimental subjects (almost) unanimously endorse. Yet prior work has largely ignored the question of which of the many competing descriptions of the original position subjects find most compelling. This paper aims to address this gap, exploring how attractive experimental subjects find various characterizations of these circumstances of choice. We find evidence suggesting that no one choice situation can fulfill the role that social contract theorists have hoped it would play. We also find that, contrary to what some prominent social contract theorists have expected, there is no robust relationship between an individual’s ranking of distributive principles and their ranking of various descriptions of the original position. In conclusion, we discuss the broader implications of these results for political philosophy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-477
Number of pages19
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Distributive justice
  • Empirical
  • Impartiality
  • Political philosophy
  • Social contract

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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