The Journal of Philosophy

Volume 120, Issue 8, August 2023

Steven J. BramsOrcid-ID, D. Marc Kilgour, Christian KlamlerOrcid-ID, Fan Wei
Pages 441-456

Two-Person Fair Division of Indivisible Items
Bentham vs. Rawls on Envy

Suppose two players wish to divide a finite set of indivisible items, over which each distributes a specified number of points. Assuming the utility of a player’s bundle is the sum of the points it assigns to the items it contains, we analyze what divisions are fair. We show that if there is an envy-free (EF) allocation of the items, two other desirable properties—Pareto-optimality (PO) and Maximinality (MM)—can also be satisfied, rendering these three properties compatible. But there may be no EF division, in which case some division must satisfy a modification of Bentham’s (1789/2017) “greatest satisfaction of the greatest number” property, called maximum Nash welfare (MNW), that satisfies PO. However, an MNF division may be neither MM nor EFX, which is a weaker form of EF. We conjecture that there is always an EFX allocation that satisfies MM, ensuring that an allocation is maximin, precisely the property that Rawls (1971/1999) championed. We discuss four broader philosophical implications of our more technical analysis.