About this topic
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. The Pigou-Dalton Principle and the Structure of Distributive Justice.Matthew Adler - manuscript
    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 (...)
  2. Justice, Claims and Prioritarianism: Room for Desert?Matthew Adler - manuscript
    Does individual desert matter for distributive justice? Is it relevant, for purposes of justice, that the pattern of distribution of justice’s “currency” (be it well-being, resources, preference-satisfaction, capabilities, or something else) is aligned in one or another way with the pattern of individual desert? -/- This paper examines the nexus between desert and distributive justice through the lens of individual claims. The concept of claims (specifically “claims across outcomes”) is a fruitful way to flesh out the content of distributive justice (...)
  3. Future Generations: A Prioritarian View.Matthew Adler - 2009 - 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 (...)
  4. Well-Being Thresholds and Moral Priority.Matthew D. Adler - 2015 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 12 (6):773-786.
  5. Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis.Matthew D. Adler - 2011 - 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 (...)
  6. Logically Necessary A Posteriori Propositions.Virgil C. Aldrich - 1969 - Analysis 29 (4):140 - 142.
  7. Equality, Coercion, Culture and Social Norms.Richard Arneson - 2003 - 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 (...)
  8. Luck Egalitarianism and Prioritarianism.Richard J. Arneson - 2000 - 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 (...)
  9. Egalitarianism and Responsibility.Richard J. Arneson - 1999 - 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 (...)
  10. Sufficiency or Priority?Yitzhak Benbaji - 2006 - European Journal of Philosophy 14 (3):327–348.
  11. The Doctrine of Sufficiency: A Defence.Yitzhak Benbaji - 2005 - Utilitas 17 (3):310-332.
    This article proposes an analysis of the doctrine of sufficiency. According to my reading, the doctrine's basic positive claim is ‘prioritarian’: benefiting x is of special moral importance where (and only where) x is badly off. Its negative claim is anti-egalitarian: most comparative facts expressed by statements of the type ‘x is worse off than y’ have no moral significance at all. This contradicts the ‘classical’ priority view according to which, although equality per se does not matter, whenever x is (...)
  12. Empirical and Armchair Ethics.Greg Bognar - 2012 - 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.
  13. Concerns for the Poorly Off in Ordering Risky Prospects.Luc Bovens - 2015 - Economics and Philosophy 31 (3):397-429.
    The Distribution View provides a model that integrates four distributional concerns in the evaluation of risky prospects. Starting from these concerns, we can generate an ordering over a set of risky prospects, or, starting from an ordering, we can extract a characterization of the underlying distributional concerns. Separability of States and/or Persons for multiple-person risky prospects, for single-person risky prospects and for multiple-person certain prospects are discussed within the model. The Distribution View sheds light on public health policies and provides (...)
  14. Evaluating Risky Prospects: The Distribution View.Luc Bovens - 2015 - Analysis 75 (2):243-253.
    Risky prospects represent policies that impose different types of risks on multiple people. I present an example from food safety. A utilitarian following Harsanyi's Aggregation Theorem ranks such prospects according to their mean expected utility or the expectation of the social utility. Such a ranking is not sensitive to any of four types of distributional concerns. I develop a model that lets the policy analyst rank prospects relative to the distributional concerns that she considers fitting in the context at hand. (...)
  15. Equality, Priority, and Positional Goods.Harry Brighouse & Adam Swift - 2006 - Ethics 116 (3):471-497.
  16. Priority to the Worse Off in Health Care Resource Prioritization.Dan Brock - 2002 - In Margaret Battin (ed.), Medicine and Social Justice. Oxford University Press. pp. 373-389.
  17. Equality Versus Priority: A Useful Distinction.John Broome - 2015 - Economics and Philosophy 31 (2):219-228.
  18. Weighing Goods: Equality, Uncertainty and Time.John Broome - 1991 - Wiley-Blackwell.
    This study uses techniques from economics to illuminate fundamental questions in ethics, particularly in the foundations of utilitarianism. Topics considered include the nature of teleological ethics, the foundations of decision theory, the value of equality and the moral significance of a person's continuing identity through time.
  19. Priority Or Sufficiency …or Both?C. Brown - 2005 - 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. (...)
  20. Prioritarianism for Variable Populations.Campbell Brown - 2007 - 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.
  21. Matters of Priority.Campbell Brown - 2005 - Dissertation, Australian National University
  22. Priority or Sufficiency …or Both?Campbell Brown - 2005 - 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. (...)
  23. Giving Up Levelling Down.Campbell Brown - 2003 - Economics and Philosophy 19 (1):111-134.
    The so-called “Levelling Down Objection” is commonly believed to occupy a central role in the debate between egalitarians and prioritarians. Egalitarians think that equality is good in itself, and so they are committed to finding value even in such equality as may only be achieved by “levelling down”–i.e., by merely reducing the better off to the level of the worse off. Although egalitarians might deny that levelling down could ever make for an all-things-considered improvement, they cannot deny that it may (...)
  24. Towards a Coherent Theory of Animal Equality.Stijn Bruers - unknown
    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 (...)
  25. Some Groundwork for a Multidimensional Axiology.Alan Carter - 2011 - 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.
  26. Why Sufficiency is Not Enough.Paula Casal - 2007 - Ethics 117 (2):296-326.
  27. In Defence of the Priority View: A Response to Otsuka and Voorhoeve.Roger Crisp - 2011 - Utilitas 23 (1):105-108.
  28. Egalitarianism and Compassion.Roger Crisp - 2003 - 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.
  29. Equality, Priority, and Compassion.Roger Crisp - 2003 - 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 (...)
  30. Fair Innings and Time-Relative Claims.Ben Davies - 2016 - Bioethics 30 (6):462-468.
    Greg Bognar has recently offered a prioritarian justification for ‘fair innings’ distributive principles that would ration access to healthcare on the basis of patients' age. In this article, I agree that Bognar's principle is among the strongest arguments for age-based rationing. However, I argue that this position is incomplete because of the possibility of ‘time-relative' egalitarian principles that could complement the kind of lifetime egalitarianism that Bognar adopts. After outlining Bognar's position, and explaining the attraction of time-relative egalitarianism, I suggest (...)
  31. Equality-Tempered Prioritarianism.D. Dorsey - 2014 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 13 (1):45-61.
    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 (...)
  32. Dilemmas in Access to Medicines: A Humanitarian Perspective – Authors' Reply.Ezekiel J. Emanuel & Govind Persad - 2017 - Lancet 387 (10073):1008-1009.
    Our Viewpoint argues that expanding access to less effective or more toxic treatments is supported not only by utilitarian ethical reasoning but also by two other ethical frameworks: those that emphasise equality and those that emphasise giving priority to the patients who are worst off. The inadequate resources available for global health reflect not only natural constraints but also unwise social and political choices. However, pitting efforts to reduce inequality and better fund global health against efforts to put available resources (...)
  33. Poverty Measurement: Prioritarianism, Sufficiency and the ‘I's of Poverty’.Lucio Esposito & Peter J. Lambert - 2011 - Economics and Philosophy 27 (2):109-121.
    The seminal contribution of Sen led to a new way to conceptualize and measure absolute poverty, by arguing for the need to ‘take note of the inequality among the poor’ . Since then, the ‘Inequality’ of poverty has become the third ‘I’ of poverty, which together with the ‘Incidence’ and the ‘Intensity’ of it constitute the dimensions deemed relevant for poverty evaluation. In this paper, we first argue that the interest in the third ‘I’ of poverty actually originates from a (...)
  34. The Priority of Inner Experience.Warner Fite - 1895 - Philosophical Review 4 (2):129-142.
  35. Equality Versus Priority: How Relevant is the Distinction?Marc Fleurbaey - 2015 - Economics and Philosophy 31 (2):203-217.
  36. On the Possibility of Nonaggregative Priority for the Worst Off.Marc Fleurbaey, Bertil Tungodden & Peter Vallentyne - 2009 - 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) (...)
  37. Decide As You Would With Full Information! An Argument Against Ex Ante Pareto.Marc Fleurbaey & Alex Voorhoeve - 2013 - In Ole Norheim, Samia Hurst, Nir Eyal & Dan Wikler (eds.), Inequalities in Health: Concepts, Measures, and Ethics. Oxford University Press.
    Policy-makers must sometimes choose between an alternative which has somewhat lower expected value for each person, but which will substantially improve the outcomes of the worst off, or an alternative which has somewhat higher expected value for each person, but which will leave those who end up worst off substantially less well off. The popular ex ante Pareto principle requires the choice of the alternative with higher expected utility for each. We argue that ex ante Pareto ought to be rejected (...)
  38. Poverty, Partiality, and the Purchase of Expensive Education.Christopher Freiman - forthcoming - Politics, Philosophy and Economics:1470594-16672952.
    Prioritarianism doesn’t value equality as such – any reason to equalize is due to the benefits for the worse off. But some argue that prioritarianism and egalitarianism coincide in their implications for the distribution of education: Equalizing educational opportunities improves the socioeconomic opportunities of the worse off. More specifically, a system that prohibits parents from making differential private educational expenditures would result in greater gains to the worse off than a system that permits these expenditures, all else equal. This article (...)
  39. Priority and Position.Christopher Freiman - 2014 - 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 (...)
  40. Why Poverty Matters Most: Towards a Humanitarian Theory of Social Justice.Christopher Freiman - 2012 - 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 (...)
  41. Equality, Priority, and Numbers.Walter Glannon - 1995 - Social Theory and Practice 21 (3):427-455.
  42. The Priority of Needs.Robert E. Goodin - 1985 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 45 (4):615-625.
  43. Antiprioritarianism.Hilary Greaves - 2015 - Utilitas 27 (1):1-42.
    Prioritarianism is supposed to be a theory of the overall good that captures the common intuition of . But it is difficult to give precise content to the prioritarian claim. Over the past few decades, prioritarians have increasingly responded to this by formulating prioritarianism not in terms of an alleged primitive notion of quantity of well-being, but instead in terms of von NeumannPrimitivistTechnicalpriority to the worse offMorgenstern utility is a retrograde step.
  44. Meeting Need.Nicole Hassoun - 2009 - 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 (...)
  45. Equality Versus Priority: A Misleading Distinction.Daniel M. Hausman - 2015 - Economics and Philosophy 31 (2):229-238.
    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 (...)
  46. Egalitarianism.Iwao Hirose - 2014 - 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 (...)
  47. Reconsidering the Value of Equality.Iwao Hirose - 2009 - 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 (...)
  48. Intertemporal Distributive Judgement.Iwao Hirose - 2005 - 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.
  49. Equality, Priority, and Aggregation.Iwao Hirose - unknown
    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 (...)
  50. Prioritarianism and Population Ethics.Nils Holtug - 2012 - Iride: Filosofia e Discussione Pubblica 25 (1):45-56.
    According to prioritarianism, roughly, it is better to benefit a person, the worse off she is. This seems a plausible principle as long as it is applied only to fixed populations. However, once this restriction is lifted, prioritarianism seems to imply that it is better cause a person to exist at a welfare level of l than to confer l units on a person who already exists and is at a positive welfare level. Thus, prioritarianism seems to assign too much (...)
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