Equal opportunity, equality, and responsibility

Dissertation, University of London (2005)
Abstract
This thesis argues that a particular version of equal opportunity for welfare is the best way of meeting the joint demands of three liberal egalitarian ideals: distributional equality, responsibility, and respect for individuals’ differing reasonable judgements of their own good. It also examines which social choice rules best represent these demands. Finally, it defends the view that achieving equal opportunity for welfare should not only be a goal of formal public institutions, but that just citizens should also sometimes be guided by it in their everyday life. The version of equal opportunity for welfare it defends differs from some well-known contemporary versions in the following ways. First, it rejects a definition of welfare as the degree of satisfaction of a person’s preferences, because, it argues, this conception of welfare cannot adequately deal with preference change. Instead, it suggests that we should adopt a conception of welfare based on a list of goods and conditions that are recognised as valuable from the perspective of a variety of different conceptions of the good. Second, it argues that individuals’ prima facie claim to an equally valuable share of the world’s resources—a claim which is based on their equal moral worth—is limited to situations in which giving one person a more valuable share means that someone else ends up with a less valuable share. It also argues that in situations where we can improve at least one person’s situation without worsening anyone else’s, we generally do not fail to respect each person’s equal moral worth by doing so, even if this leads to inequalities. Third, it defends a distinct view of responsibility, which justifies social arrangements that give people certain options with reference to the value that individuals can achieve (but don’t necessarily achieve) through their choices from these options.
Keywords equality  responsibility  welfare
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