Equality, benevolence, and responsiveness to agent-relative value

Social Philosophy and Policy 19 (1):314-341 (2002)

Eric Mack
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Do differences in income or wealth matter, morally speaking? This essay addresses a broader issue than this question seems to pose. But this broader issue is, I believe, the salient philosophical issue which this question actually poses. Let me explain. Narrowly read, the question at hand is concerned only with inequality of income or wealth. It asks us to consider whether inequality of income or wealth as such is morally problematic. On this construal, the question invites us to consider whether the bare fact that Joshua has a greater income or net worth than Rebekah is a morally defective social state of affairs. Is there at least a significant moral presumption on behalf of equality of income or wealth such that, if an inequality of income or wealth obtains vis-à-vis Joshua and Rebekah, that inequality ought to be nullified unless some impressive positive justification for the inequality can be provided? On this narrow reading, the salient issue is whether there exists in particular an egalitarian presumption with respect to income or wealth. But I believe that the genuinely salient issue here is whether there exists in general an egalitarian presumption with respect to whatever factual condition of individuals one is supposed to attend to when assessing social states of affairs. The crucial question is not whether income or wealth or utility or well-being is the condition the unequal distribution of which is as such morally problematic
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DOI 10.1017/s0265052502191138
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