An egalitarian plateau? Challenging the importance of Ronald Dworkin's abstract egalitarian rights

Res Publica 13 (3):255-291 (2007)
Ronald Dworkin’s work on the topic of equality over the past twenty-five years or so has been enormously influential, generating a great deal of debate about equality both as a practical aim and as a theoretical ideal. The present article attempts to assess the importance of one particular aspect of this work. Dworkin claims that the acceptance of abstract egalitarian rights to equal concern and respect can be thought to provide a kind of plateau in political argument, accommodating as it does a number of well-known ethical theories of social arrangement from utilitarianism to libertarianism. The article explores the moral foundations of these egalitarian rights and critically examines five specific reasons for supposing they matter in political debate. It is argued that though these reasons are perhaps less constructive than they might be reasonably expected to be, there is another more fundamental question we can ask about the scope of egalitarian rights the answer to which might ultimately help to explain their fundamental nature and importance. That question is: equality among whom?
Keywords Dworkin  equality  justice  liberalism  political argument  rights
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DOI 10.1007/s11158-007-9030-2
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