Educational Philosophy and Theory 53 (8):777-788 (2021)

Jaime Ahlberg
University of Florida
In the liberal egalitarian literature, the concept of talent is inflected according to its use in broader arguments surrounding the nature of justice. In particular, sometimes talent is understood as a desirable inborn property, while at other times it is understood as a matter of inhabiting a favorable social position. Rawls’s arguments in A Theory of Justice provide useful expressions of these two very different conceptions of talent and their relationship to justice, and much of this paper involves an exploration of those arguments. The former sense of talent informs Rawls’s fair equality of opportunity principle: those with equivalent levels of talent and effort are to face similar prospects. According to the latter, what is significant about talent is not its innate origins, but rather its enabling the possession of desirable goods. This second sense of talent is implicit in Rawls’s difference principle: though it is arbitrary that the talented have the ability to command high wages, it is nonetheless fair to keep those wages because the worst off benefit most from that arrangement. In this paper I explore how the two conceptions of talent operate in these influential arguments, with the broader aims of clarifying the nature of talent and its relevance to social justice.
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DOI 10.1080/00131857.2020.1742697
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