All must have prizes: the liberal case for intervention in cultural practices

In Kelly (ed.), Multiculturalism reconsidered: Culture and Equality and its Critics. Cambridge, UK: Polity. pp. 151-173 (2002)
Liberals like choice.1 Human flourishing, they believe, is to some degree dependent on individuals’ ability to choose their ends and actions. However, liberals sometimes fail to note that this principle does not always work in reverse: it does not follow that an individual acting according to her own choices will flourish, or that she will necessarily have the freedom and autonomy which are crucial to flourishing. In this paper, I shall show that even outcomes which result from the choices of the individuals concerned may be unjust, if two conditions hold. I call these conditions the disadvantage and influence factors. Together, they express the idea that if an individual is encouraged to make choices which disadvantage her, then the ensuing inequality is unjust – particularly if the disadvantage is significant and enduring, and if the encouragement comes from those who make different choices and so end up better off. Egalitarian liberals, I argue, should be particularly worried about such outcomes, despite a temptation to rely on choice as the determinant of justice.
Keywords Multiculturalism  Liberalism  Justice  Disadvantage
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