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2011-06-13
Rawls on Talents
Accodding to Rawls, an individual's possession of a productive talent only justifies an inequitable distribution of primary goods in her favor when that distribution incentivizes productivity in a way that benefits the worst-off. But what about talents whose very exercise seems to require that their possessors have significantly more leisure than their fellowmen? Doesn't the leisure required for the exercise of these talents provide a justification for inequitable distribution quite apart from any consideration of incentives?

2011-06-20
Rawls on Talents
Reply to Mark Silcox
there is something important about this point you are making.  If you study the policial philosophy of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, you will fins that he wspoused a class of people he called the "clerisy."  This group would be the gnerators of culture, and include, vaguely, intellectuals, artists, clergy.  The idea is a good one, but it seems it is faulty, because it is indistinguishable in practice from the overly advantaged sons of the very rich, especially the lazy members thereof.  So while I personally have always had great belief in the idea as an ideal, I also have to admit that the difficult course a genuinely original talent must undergo to prove itself and may well fail altogether under those pressures, there is no straight road to success and no pot of gold at the end of it, even though it seems that the plaint of Grey in his "Elegy in a Country Churchyard" is true. 

LLL

2011-06-20
Rawls on Talents
Lawrence:

I take your point. Of course any Rawlsian would (quite rightly, I think) insist that if the 'clerisy' were to be the beneficiaries of economic inequities, then there would have to be fair and open competition for membership in this class. And that does raise a special problem, for exactly the reason you suggest - how would one go about testing people to see who had possession of the requisite talents before a system of privilege was already in place?

Still, even if one can imagine a future state of affairs in which sufficient strides have been made in child psychology (or perhaps even behavioral genetics or neuroscience) to allow for a solution to this latter problem, I still find it hard to anticipate what the Rawlsian line would be about the relevant type of inequity.