The grounds and scope of egalitarian justice

The main problem that the thesis is concerned with is: in which contexts is the maintenance of inequalities in the distribution of social goods unjust, and why is it unjust in these contexts? The thesis has three main sections. In the first section I reject Thomas Nagel's argument that, even when applied to only the coercive institutions of the state, egalitarian principles could be reasonably rejected on the grounds that they would be overly demanding on those who could be better off in feasible non-egalitarian distributions. In rejecting Nagel's position, I argue that coercion involves a particular justificatory problem which rules out the considerations of partiality that Nagel appeals to from being grounds for reasonable rejection of principles of justice in this context. The focus of the second section is whether egalitarian principles of distributive justice might apply beyond the coercive institutions of the state - to, for example, the broader set of institutions which make up the 'basic structure' of a system of social cooperation. I argue against the recent work of Michael Blake and Thomas Nagel and conclude that institutional coercion, while sufficient to ground egalitarian principles of distributive justice, is not necessary. Non-coercive interactions in which one has no reasonable alternative but to comply with another's will may also raise the justificatory problems which lead us to egalitarianism. The third section discusses whether principles of egalitarian distributive justice apply beyond institutions, and to personal decisions, through what G.A. Cohen has called an 'egalitarian ethos'. I argue that while no compelling ground for the egalitarian ethos has yet been given, the arguments against it in the recent literature are also flawed. In particular, I argue that the objections that an egalitarian ethos would be overly 'demanding' or fail to meet a 'publicity constraint’ are not convincing.
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