The government rules that everyone who wants to play a lottery has to buy the ticket before 20 December. The prize is told to be 1'000'000. After 20 December (and before the game ends) the government decides to increase the prize by 10 times the original amount, but it is too late to buy tickets now. Since the prize has been increased nobody who bought the ticket can claim to have been damaged (they have been gifted actually). But what about those who didn't buy the ticket? They would have bought the ticket if they knew the price would have become so big. Can they legitimately claim to have been damaged by the government decision to increase the prize?

(Suppose that the prize is completely irrelevant compared with the government budget so that the public finance is actually not affected)

  • 1
    This mostly seems like a question about legal damages. What specifically is the issue in philosophy you are facing we can help answer?
    – virmaior
    Feb 12 '16 at 15:33
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    I am not interested in the legal aspect (it depends on the particular laws of a particular state), I am interested in ethics here: what is the right way to see this kind of situation from an ethical point of view? Feb 12 '16 at 15:35
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    @virmaior I think the lottery example is just an example, and OP is asking more generally about counterfactuals in ethics.
    – Era
    Feb 12 '16 at 16:27
  • @Era you might want to look at the OPs profile... both of his questions are about lotteries.
    – virmaior
    Feb 13 '16 at 1:54
  • @Marco "claims to damages" are not a very common category for ethics questions (not saying it does not fall under the purview of ethics) -- what sort of political philosophy are we operating under? what obligations does the state have to its citizens? What powers does the state possess justly? Is there a particular framework you'd like answers to address? All of these are things you should characterize to strengthen the answerability of the question.
    – virmaior
    Feb 13 '16 at 1:56

You can make any claim you want, since no particular ethical system is mentioned in the problem.

I think one could at least have good fun arguing that the knowledge that one chose NOT to buy a ticket is a thing in and of itself, which can cause pain or pleasure. The raising of the prize increases the ability of that knowledge to hurt you.

One could also argue that, if a particular government has sold itself as having certain properties such as fairness or equality, the raising of the lottery could be seen as eroding key "rights" guaranteed to individuals.

Of course, we know nothing of why the government made their choice. It's entirely possible that, if you look at a bigger picture view, you get to see a way non-lottery-ticket-holders benefited from the decision which isn't immediately apparent with the ultra-narrow focus we are given in the problem statement. There's simply not enough information to make a definite answer one way or another, but it at least appears that there are points of view from which one could argue damages. Whether those positions are valid depends entirely on what system of ethics is actually in play.

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