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In defence of ‘Toma’: algorithmic enhancement of a sense of justice

Stevens, David

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Despite serious reservations over issues of transparency, accountability, bias, and the like, algorithms offer a potentially significant contribution to furthering human well-being via the influencing of beliefs, desires, and choices. Should governments be permitted to leverage socially beneficial attitudes, or enhance the well-being of their citizens via the use of algorithmic tools? In this chapter I argue that there are principled moral reasons that do not permit governments to shape the ends of individuals in this way, even when it would contribute a positive benefit to well-being. Such shaping would undermine the kinds of ethical independence that state legitimacy is based upon. However, I also argue that this does not apply to what Rawls calls a ‘sense of justice’ – the dispositions necessary to uphold just political and socioeconomic institutions. Where traditional methods of influence, such as education, prove lacking, then algorithmic enhancement towards those ends may be permissible. Mireille Hildebrandt’s fictitious piece of computational software – ‘Toma’ – serves as the point of departure for this argument, and provides many of the insights regarding the autonomic nature of such influence.

Acceptance Date Jan 29, 2019
Online Publication Date Jan 1, 2020
Publication Date Jan 1, 2020
Deposit Date Mar 5, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jul 2, 2020
Publisher Edward Elgar Publishing
Book Title Life and the Law in the Era of Data-Driven Agency
Chapter Number 9
ISBN 9781788971997
Public URL
Related Public URLs
Additional Information This is a draft chapter. The final version will be available in Life and the Law in the Era of Data-Driven Agency / Edited by Mireille Hildebrandt, Research Professor of Interfacing Law and Technology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium; Full Professor of Smart Environments, Data Protection and the Rule of Law, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands and Kieron O’Hara, Associate Professor in Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, UK, published January 2020. Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.

The material cannot be used for any other purpose without further permission of the publisher, and is for private use only.


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