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Probable JusticeRisk, Insurance, and the Welfare State$
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Rachel Z. Friedman

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226730769

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226731094.001.0001

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The Origins of Risk and the Growth of Insurance

The Origins of Risk and the Growth of Insurance

Chapter:
(p.17) One The Origins of Risk and the Growth of Insurance
Source:
Probable Justice
Author(s):

Rachel Z. Friedman

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226731094.003.0002

This chapter traces the early history of insurance and mathematical probability, laying the foundations for the argument that social insurance inherited a duality from the concept of risk. This duality was present in the earliest accounts of maritime insurance, which was seen both as a tool for both personal gain and as a means of mitigating or sharing loss. In identifying this tension at the root of the practice, and then showing how mathematical probability reflected it, the chapter shows that modern tools for coping with uncertainty were ambiguous from their inception. It also offers an explanation as to how insurance, despite its frequent association with gambling, took on for many advocates the image of a just arrangement for sharing burdens. By highlighting the distributive focus of several early accounts, in particular those of Leibniz and Jacob Bernoulli, it explains the enduring strength of the equitable, mutualistic image of insurance alongside its more speculative one. It then shows how the former image was taken up by advocates of statistical life insurance, who proposed it as the model for a new account of distributive justice based rigorously calculated, impersonal assessments of risk.

Keywords:   maritime insurance, risk, mathematical probability, mutualism, life insurance

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