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Summary According to Prioritarianism (or the Priority View), a benefit is more morally valuable or choiceworthy the worse off the recipient of this benefit is.  On the standard interpretation, what matters is how badly off in absolute terms the recipient would be, over the course of her whole life, independently of the benefit in question; but not all versions of Prioritarianism share these features.  Prioritarianism may appear more plausible than Utilitarianism, since unlike Utilitarianism it implies that if our choice were between substantially benefiting a very well off person and benefiting a very badly off person to a slightly lesser degree, we should do the latter, other things being equal.  Prioritarianism may also appear more plausible than Egalitarianism, since unlike Egalitarianism it seems to avoid the Levelling-Down Objection.  While many are attracted to Prioritarianism for these reasons, both of these purported advantages of the view have been contested, and indeed Prioritarianism faces a host of independent objections.
Key works Parfit's 1991 Lindley Lecture provides an early philosophical exploration of Prioritarianism, and among other things claims that it avoids the Levelling-Down Objection.  Crisp 2003 offers cases suggesting that Prioritarian concern should not apply to those who are sufficiently well off.  Temkin defends Egalitarianism against the Levelling-Down Objection and responds to Crisp in Temkin 2003, to which Crisp replies.  Broome 1991 and Otsuka & Voorhoeve 2009 have argued against Prioritarianism, claiming that it conflicts with plausible views about the value or choiceworthiness of uncertain prospects.  Rabinowicz 2002 responds to Broome, and the September 2012 issue of the journal Utilitas contains several important articles discussing Prioritarianism in light of the argument given by Otsuka and Voorhoeve.  Finally, Brown 2007Holtug 2010, and Adler 2011 have looked at some of the complications and potential challenges that arise for Prioritarianism in the context of population ethics, that is, whether and how to extend the view to cases involving variable populations.
Introductions Parfit 1991 usefully introduces Prioritarianism (the Priority View) in the context of earlier views and debates in distributive justice, or the ethics of distribution.  Holtug 2007 provides a sympathetic introduction, addressing several key objections to Prioritarianism. 
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  1. Matthew Adler, The Pigou-Dalton Principle and the Structure of Distributive Justice.
    The Pigou-Dalton (PD) principle recommends a non-leaky, non-rank-switching transfer of goods from someone with more goods to someone with less. This Article defends the PD principle as an aspect of distributive justice—enabling the comparison of two distributions, neither completely equal, as more or less just. It shows how the PD principle flows from a particular view, adumbrated by Thomas Nagel, about the grounding of distributive justice in individuals’ “claims.” And it criticizes two competing frameworks for thinking about justice that less (...)
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  2. Matthew Adler (2009). Future Generations: A Prioritarian View. George Washington Law Review 77:1478-1520.
    Should we remain neutral between our interests and those of future generations? Or are we ethically permitted or even required to depart from neutrality and engage in some measure of intergenerational discounting? This Article addresses the problem of intergenerational discounting by drawing on two different intellectual traditions: the social welfare function (“SWF”) tradition in welfare economics, and scholarship on “prioritarianism” in moral philosophy. Unlike utilitarians, prioritarians are sensitive to the distribution of well-being. They give greater weight to well-being changes affecting (...)
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  3. Matthew D. Adler (2011). Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis. Oxford University Press.
    This book addresses a range of relevant theoretical issues, including the possibility of an interpersonally comparable measure of well-being, or “utility” metric; the moral value of equality, and how that bears on the form of the social welfare function; social choice under uncertainty; and the possibility of integrating considerations of individual choice and responsibility into the social-welfare-function framework. This book also deals with issues of implementation, and explores how survey data and other sources of evidence might be used to calibrate (...)
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  4. Richard Arneson (2003). Equality, Coercion, Culture and Social Norms. Politics, Philosophy and Economics 2 (2):139-163.
    Against the libertarian view, this essay argues that coercion aimed at bringing about a more equal distribution across persons can be morally acceptable. Informal social norms might lead toward equality (or another social justice goal) without coercion. If coercion were unnecessary, it would be morally undesirable. A consequentialist integration of social norms and principles of social justice is proposed. The proposal is provided with a preliminary defense against the non-consequentialist egalitarianism of G.A. Cohen and against liberal criticisms directed against the (...)
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  5. Richard J. Arneson (2000). Luck Egalitarianism and Prioritarianism. Ethics 110 (2):339-349.
    In her recent, provocative essay “What Is the Point of Equality?”, Elizabeth Anderson argues against a common ideal of egalitarian justice that she calls “luck egalitarianism” and in favor of an approach she calls “democratic equality.”1 According to the luck egalitarian, the aim of justice as equality is to eliminate so far as is possible the impact on people’s lives of bad luck that falls on them through no fault or choice of their own. In the ideal luck egalitarian society, (...)
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  6. Richard J. Arneson (1999). Egalitarianism and Responsibility. Journal of Ethics 3 (3):225-247.
    This essay examines several possible rationales for the egalitarian judgment that justice requires better-off individuals to help those who are worse off even in the absence of social interaction. These rationales include equality (everyone should enjoy the same level of benefits), moral meritocracy (each should get benefits according to her responsibility or deservingness), the threshold of sufficiency (each should be assured a minimally decent quality of life), prioritarianism (a function of benefits to individuals should be maximized that gives priority to (...)
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  7. Yitzhak Benbaji (2006). Sufficiency or Priority? European Journal of Philosophy 14 (3):327–348.
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  8. Greg Bognar (2012). Empirical and Armchair Ethics. Utilitas 24 (04):467-482.
    In a recent paper, Michael Otsuka and Alex Voorhoeve present a novel argument against prioritarianism. The argument takes its starting point from empirical surveys on people's preferences in health care resource allocation problems. In this article, I first question whether the empirical findings support their argument, and then I make some general points about the use of ‘empirical ethics’ in ethical theory.
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  9. Harry Brighouse & Adam Swift (2006). Equality, Priority, and Positional Goods. Ethics 116 (3):471-497.
  10. Dan Brock (2002). Priority to the Worse Off in Health Care Resource Prioritization. In Margaret Battin (ed.), Medicine and Social Justice. Oxford University Press. 373-389.
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  11. John Broome (forthcoming). Equality Versus Priority: A Useful Distinction. In Daniel Wikler (ed.), Fairness and Goodness in Health. World Health Organization.
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  12. John Broome (1991). Weighing Goods: Equality, Uncertainty and Time. Wiley-Blackwell.
  13. Campbell Brown (2007). Prioritarianism for Variable Populations. Philosophical Studies 134 (3):325 - 361.
    Philosophical discussions of prioritarianism, the view that we ought to give priority to those who are worse off, have hitherto been almost exclusively focused on cases involving a fixed population. The aim of this paper is to extend the discussion of prioritarianism to encompass also variable populations. I argue that prioritarianism, in its simplest formulation, is not tenable in this area. However, I also propose several revised formulations that, so I argue, show more promise.
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  14. Campbell Brown (2005). Matters of Priority. Dissertation, Australian National University
  15. Campbell Brown (2005). Priority or Sufficiency …or Both? Economics and Philosophy 21 (2):199-220.
    Prioritarianism is the view that we ought to give priority to benefiting those who are worse off. Sufficientism, on the other hand, is the view that we ought to give priority to benefiting those who are not sufficiently well off. This paper concerns the relative merits of these two views; in particular, it examines an argument advanced by Roger Crisp to the effect that sufficientism is the superior of the two. My aim is to show that Crisp's argument is unsound. (...)
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  16. Campbell Brown (2003). Giving Up Levelling Down. Economics and Philosophy 19 (1):111-134.
  17. Stijn Bruers, Towards a Coherent Theory of Animal Equality.
    In this article I want to construct in a simple and systematic way an ethical theory of animal equality. The goal is a consistent theory, containing a set of clear and coherent universalized ethical principles that best fits our strongest moral intuitions in all possible morally relevant situations that we can think of, without too many arbitrary elements. I demonstrate that impartiality with a level of risk aversion and empathy with a need for efficiency are two different approaches that both (...)
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  18. Alan Carter (2011). Some Groundwork for a Multidimensional Axiology. Philosophical Studies 154 (3):389 - 408.
    By distinguishing between contributory values and overall value, and by arguing that contributory values are variable values insofar as they contribute diminishing marginal overall value, this article helps to establish the superiority of a certain kind of maximizing, value-pluralist axiology over both sufficientarianism and prioritarianism, as well as over all varieties of value-monism, including utilitarianism and pure egalitarianism.
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  19. Paula Casal (2007). Why Sufficiency is Not Enough. Ethics 117 (2):296-326.
  20. Roger Crisp (2011). In Defence of the Priority View: A Response to Otsuka and Voorhoeve. Utilitas 23 (1):105-108.
  21. Roger Crisp (2003). Egalitarianism and Compassion. Ethics 114 (1):119-126.
    In "Egalitarianism Defended," Larry Temkin attempted to rebut criticisms of egalitarianism I had made in my article, "Equality, Priority, and Compassion." Temkin's response is interesting and illuminating, but, in this article, I shall claim that his arguments miss their target and that the failure of egalitarianism may have implications more serious than some have thought.
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  22. Roger Crisp (2003). Equality, Priority, and Compassion. Ethics 113 (4):745-763.
    In recent years there has been a good deal of discussion of equality’s place in the best account of distribution or distributive justice. One central question has been whether egalitarianism should give way to a principle requiring us to give priority to the worse off. In this article, I shall begin by arguing that the grounding of equality is indeed insecure and that the priority principle appears to have certain advantages over egalitarianism. But I shall then claim that the priority (...)
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  23. Dale Dorsey (2013). Equality-Tempered Prioritarianism. Politics, Philosophy and Economics 13 (1):1470594-13483479.
    In this paper, I present and explore an alternative to a standard prioritarian axiology. Equality-tempered prioritarianism holds that the value of welfare increases should be balanced against the value of equality. However, given that, under prioritarianism, the value of marginal welfare benefits decreases as the welfare of beneficiaries increases, equality-tempered prioritarianism holds that the intrinsic value of equality will be sufficient to alter a prioritarian verdict only in cases in which welfare benefits are granted to the very well-off. I argue (...)
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  24. Lucio Esposito & Peter J. Lambert (2011). Poverty Measurement: Prioritarianism, Sufficiency and the 'I's of Poverty. Economics and Philosophy 27 (2):109-121.
  25. Marc Fleurbaey (forthcoming). Equality Vs Priority: How Relevant is the Distinction? In Christopher Murray (ed.), Fairness and goodness in health. World Health Organization.
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  26. Marc Fleurbaey, Bertil Tungodden & Peter Vallentyne (2009). On the Possibility of Nonaggregative Priority for the Worst Off. Social Philosophy and Policy 26 (1):258-285.
    We shall focus on moral theories that are solely concerned with promoting the benefits (e.g., wellbeing) of individuals and explore the possibility of such theories ascribing some priority to benefits to those who are worse off—without this priority being absolute. Utilitarianism (which evaluates alternatives on the basis of total or average benefits) ascribes no priority to the worse off, and leximin (which evaluates alternatives by giving lexical priority to the worst off, and then the second worst off, and so on) (...)
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  27. Marc Fleurbaey & Alex Voorhoeve (2012). Egalitarianism and the Separateness of Persons. Utilitas 24 (3):381-398.
    The difference between the unity of the individual and the separateness of persons requires that there be a shift in the moral weight that we accord to changes in utility when we move from making intrapersonal tradeoffs to making interpersonal tradeoffs. We examine which forms of egalitarianism can, and which cannot, account for this shift. We argue that a form of egalitarianism which is concerned only with the extent of outcome inequality cannot account for this shift. We also argue that (...)
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  28. Christopher Freiman (2014). Priority and Position. Philosophical Studies 167 (2):341-360.
    Positional goods are goods whose relative amount determines their absolute value. Many goods appear to have positional aspects. For example, one’s relative standing in the distribution of education and wealth may determine one’s absolute condition with respect to goods like employment opportunities, self-respect, and social inclusion. Positional goods feature in recent arguments from T.M. Scanlon, Brian Barry, and Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift that assert that we should favor egalitarian distributions of positional goods even if we reject equality as a (...)
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  29. Christopher Freiman (2012). Why Poverty Matters Most: Towards a Humanitarian Theory of Social Justice. Utilitas 24 (01):26-40.
    Sufficientarians claim that what matters most is that people have enough. I develop and defend a revised sufficientarian conception of justice. I claim that it furnishes the best specification of a general humanitarian ideal of social justice: our main moral concern should be helping those who are badly off in absolute terms. Rival humanitarian views such as egalitarianism, prioritarianism and the difference principle face serious objections from which sufficientarianism is exempt. Moreover, a revised conception of sufficientarianism can meet the most (...)
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  30. Walter Glannon (1995). Equality, Priority, and Numbers. Social Theory and Practice 21 (3):427-455.
  31. Hilary Greaves, Antiprioritarianism.
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  32. Nicole Hassoun (2009). Meeting Need. Utilitas 21 (3):250-275.
    This paper considers the question ‘How should institutions enable people to meet their needs in situations where there is no guarantee that all needs can be met?’ After considering and rejecting several simple principles for meeting needs, it suggests a new effectiveness principle that 1) gives greater weight to the needs of the less well off and 2) gives weight to enabling a greater number of people to meet their needs. The effectiveness principle has some advantage over the main competitors (...)
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  33. Daniel M. Hausman, Equality Versus Priority: A Badly Misleading Distinction.
    People condemn inequalities for many reasons. For example, many who have no concern with distribution per se criticize inequalities in health care, because these inequalities lessen the benefits provided by the resources that are devoted to health care. Others who place no intrinsic value on distribution believe that a just society must show a special concern for those who are worst off. Some people, on the other hand, do place an intrinsic value on equality of distribution, regardless of its contribution (...)
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  34. Iwao Hirose (2014). Egalitarianism. Routledge.
    Some people are worse off than others. Does this fact give rise to moral concern? Egalitarianism claims that it does, for a wide array of reasons. It is one of the most important and hotly debated problems in moral and political philosophy, occupying a central place in the work of John Rawls, Thomas Nagel, G. A. Cohen and Derek Parfit. It also plays an important role in practical contexts such as the allocation of health care resources, the design of education (...)
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  35. Iwao Hirose (2009). Reconsidering the Value of Equality. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 87 (2):301-312.
    Some people believe that the equality of people's well-being makes an outcome better, other things being constant. Call this Telic Egalitarianism. In this paper I will propose a new interpretation of Telic Egalitarianism, and compare it with the interpretation that is proposed by Derek Parfit 1995 and widely accepted by many philosophers. I will argue that my proposed interpretation is more plausible than Parfit's. One of the virtues in my interpretation is that it shows his Levelling Down Objection does not (...)
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  36. Iwao Hirose (2005). Intertemporal Distributive Judgement. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 8 (4):371 - 386.
    This paper considers the simple two-person two-period case of distributive judgement, and argues (a) that sensible intertemporal distributive principle should consider both the distribution of people's life time well-being and the distribution of people's well-being at each period and (b) that, if (a) is correct, Egalitarianism is more acceptable than Prioritarianism since the latter must choose either one.
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  37. Iwao Hirose, Equality, Priority, and Aggregation.
    In this dissertation, I discuss two distributive principles in moral philosophy: Derek Parfit's Prioritarianism and Egalitarianism. I attempt to defend a version of Egalitarianism, which I call Weighted Egalitarianism. Although Parfit claims that Egalitarianism is subject to what he calls the Levelling Down Objection, I show (a) that my proposed Weighted Egalitarianism is not subject to the Objection, and (b) that it gives priority to the worse off people. The real difference between the two principles lies in how the weight (...)
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  38. Nils Holtug (2012). Prioritarianism and Population Ethics. Iride 25 (1):45-56.
  39. Nils Holtug (2010). Persons, Interests, and Justice. Oxford University Press.
    In our lives, we aim to achieve welfare for ourselves, that is, to live good lives. But we also have another, more impartial perspective, where we aim to balance our concern for our own welfare against a concern for the welfare of others. This is a perspective of justice. Nils Holtug examines these two perspectives and the relations between them. -/- The first part of the book is concerned with prudence; more precisely, with what the necessary and sufficient conditions are (...)
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  40. Nils Holtug (2009). Equality, Priority and Global Justice. Journal of Global Ethics 5 (3):173 – 179.
    Derek Parfit has argued that prioritarianism “naturally” has global scope, i.e. naturally applies to everyone, irrespective of his or her particular national, state or other communal affiliation. In that respect, it differs from e.g. egalitarianism. In this article, I critically assess Parfit's argument. In particular, I argue that it is difficult to draw conclusions about the scope of prioritarianism simply from an inspection of its structure. I also make some suggestions as to what it would take to argue that prioritarianism (...)
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  41. Nils Holtug (2007). Prioritarianism. In Nils Holtug & Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (eds.), Egalitarianism: New Essays on the Nature and Value of Equality. Clarendon Press. 125--156.
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  42. Nils Holtug (1999). Utility, Priority and Possible People. Utilitas 11 (01):16-.
    This paper discusses what the so-called Priority View implies regarding possible people. It is argued that this view is plausible when applied to fixed populations, but that, when applied to the issue of possible people, it faces certain difficulties. If it is claimed that possible people fall within the scope of the Priority View, we are led to the repugnant conclusion (and other counter-intuitive conclusions) at a faster pace than we are by, e.g., utilitarianism. And if it is claimed that (...)
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  43. D. Clayton Hubin (1980). Minimizing Maximin. Philosophical Studies 37 (4):363 - 372.
    In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls provides several arguments contractors in the original position using maximin reasoning, which leads directly to the difference principle. These arguments are inadequate to support the claim that maximin reasoning is the uniquely rational approach to choice in the original position.
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  44. Michael Huemer (2012). Against Equality and Priority. Utilitas 24 (04):483-501.
    -/- I start from three premises, roughly as follows: (1) that if possible world x is better than world y for every individual who exists in either world, then x is better than y; (2) that if x has a higher average utility, a higher total utility, and no more inequality than y, then x is better than y; (3) that better than is transitive. From these premises, it follows that benefits given to the worse off contribute no more to (...)
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  45. Robert Huseby (2012). Sufficiency and Population Ethics. Ethical Perspectives 19 (2):187-206.
  46. Karsten Klint Jensen (2003). What is the Difference Between (Moderate) Egalitarianism and Prioritarianism? Economics and Philosophy 19 (1):89-109.
    It is common to define egalitarianism in terms of an inequality ordering, which is supposed to have some weight in overall evaluations of outcomes. Egalitarianism, thus defined, implies that levelling down makes the outcome better in respect of reducing inequality; however, the levelling down objection claims there can be nothing good about levelling down. The priority view, on the other hand, does not have this implication. This paper challenges the common view. The standard definition of egalitarianism implicitly assumes a context. (...)
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  47. Niklas Juth (2013). Challenges for Principles of Need in Health Care. Health Care Analysis:1-15.
    What challenges must a principle of need for prioritisations in health care meet in order to be plausible and practically useful? Some progress in answering this question has recently been made by Hope, Østerdal and Hasman. This article continue their work by suggesting that the characteristic feature of principles of needs is that they are sufficientarian, saying that we have a right to a minimally acceptable or good life or health, but nothing more. Accordingly, principles of needs must answer two (...)
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  48. Klemens Kappel (1997). Equality, Priority, and Time. Utilitas 9 (02):203-.
    The lifetime equality view (the view that it is good if people's lives on the whole are equally worth living) has recently been met with the objection that it does not rule out simultaneous inequality: two persons may lead equally good lives on the whole and yet there may at any time be great differences in their level of well-being. And simultaneous inequality, it is held, ought to be a concern of egalitarians. The paper discusses this and related objections to (...)
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  49. Carl Knight (2013). The Injustice of Discrimination. South African Journal of Philosophy 32 (1):47-59.
    Discrimination might be considered unjust on account of the comparative disadvantage it imposes, the absolute disadvantage it imposes, the disrespect it shows, or the prejudice it shows. This article argues that each of these accounts overlooks some cases of unjust discrimination. In response to this state of affairs we might combine two or more of these accounts. A promising approach combines the comparative disadvantage and absolute disadvantage accounts.
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  50. Carl Knight (2009). Describing Equality. Law and Philosophy 28 (4):327 - 365.
    This articles proposes that theories and principles of distributive justice be considered substantively egalitarian iff they satisfy each of three conditions: (1) they consider the bare fact that a person is in certain circumstances to be a conclusive reason for placing another relevantly identically entitled person in the same circumstances, except where this conflicts with other similarly conclusive reasons arising from the circumstances of other persons; (2) they can be stated as 'equality of x for all persons', making no explicit (...)
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