Similarity and the Trustworthiness of Distributive Judgments

Alex Voorhoeve, Arnaldur S. Stefansson, and Brian Wallace

Economics and Philosophy, forthcoming.


When people must either save a greater number of people from a smaller harm or a smaller number from a greater harm, do their choices reflect a reasonable moral outlook? We pursue this question with the help of an experiment. In our experiment, two-fifths of subjects employ a similarity heuristic. When alternatives appear dissimilar in terms of the number saved but similar in terms of the magnitude of harm prevented, this heuristic mandates saving the greater number. In our experiment, this leads to choices that are inconsistent with all standard theories of justice. We argue that this demonstrates the
untrustworthiness of distributive judgments in cases that elicit similarity-based choice.


Appendix 1: Instructions and all questions

Appendix 2: Further statistical analysis

Appendix 3: Excel sheet of subjects' choice data and rationales