UCL Faculty of Laws


Determinism and the value and fairness of equal chances

28 February 2017, 4:00 pm–6:00 pm


Event Information

Open to



Institute of Law, Politics and Philosophy


Council Room, UCL School of Public Policy, 29-30 Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9QU


Professor Michael Otsuka (London School of Economics)


Institute of Law, Politics and Philosophy

Note that the total time will be devoted to discussion of the paper. To receive the paper and to be added to the email list for the UCL Institute of Law, Politics & Philosophy please email jeffrey.howard@ucl.ac.uk

About the paper

It follows from plausible claims about the laws of physics and the narrowness of the most relevant reference class that the positive chances between 0.0 and 1.0 that lotteries yield are almost certainly merely epistemic rather than objective. It is, for example, merely a matter of our ignorance that a given fair coin toss confers a 0.5 chance of landing heads. In actual objective fact, the chances of its landing heads are almost certainly either 0.0 or 1.0.

Professor Otsuka argues that, even if all chances between 0.0 and 1.0 are merely epistemic rather than objective, the provision of such merely epistemically equal positive chances of an indivisible, life-saving resource to those with equal claims renders things fairer by providing the equal distribution of something that it is rational to value equally. It follows, somewhat paradoxically, that the descent of a veil that deprives us knowledge of who is fated to live and die makes things fairer. It would, however, be self-defeating for us to choose to impose such a veil in order to try to equalize the distribution of something it is rational to value equally. This is because rational valuation is based on an assessment rather than the destruction of the best evidence available to us.

About the institute

The Institute brings together political and legal theorists from LawPolitical Science and Philosophy and organises regular colloquia in terms 2 and 3.