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Dignity and the Value of Rejecting Profitable but Insulting Offers

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Efthymios Athanasiou, Alex John London, Kevin J. S. Zollman
Issue number: 
Volume 124, Issue 494
Oxford University Press
Journal pages: 
In this paper we distinguish two competing conceptions of dignity, one recognizably Hobbesian and one recognizably Kantian. We provide a formal model of how decision-makers committed to these conceptions of dignity might reason when engaged in an economic transaction that is not inherently insulting, but in which it is possible for the dignity of the agent to be called into question. This is a modified version of the ultimatum game. We then use this model to illustrate ways in which the Kantian evaluative standpoint enjoys a kind of internal stability that the Hobbesian framework lacks. Our interpersonal argument shows that, under certain conditions, Hobbesians prefer to cultivate Kantian commitments in others and promote the presence of Kantians in the population. Our intrapersonal argument shows that agents who are conflicted between Kantian and Hobbesian commitments have powerful reasons not to resolve this commitment in favour of Hobbesian values. Our emulation argument illustrates that in repeated versions of the ultimatum game, the Hobbesian chooses to behave like a Kantian, including publicly repudiating her Hobbesian commitments. Here again, however, the Hobbesian is able to achieve a desired benefit only on the condition that there are genuine Kantians in the population. Finally, our social planning argument explores the reasons why a community of Hobbesians would opt to enshrine a Kantian conception of dignity into law. The paper concludes with some remarks about the policy implications of this work.
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