Taking equality seriously

Dissertation, Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München (2020)
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Abstract

In this thesis, I attempt to reconcile two alternative approaches to justice: distributive and relational egalitarianism. When examining the two accounts, I claim that relational egalitarianism has distributive egalitarian implications. This implies an extensional overlap between the two accounts, namely a correspondence between the normative outcomes of relational and distributive egalitarianism. This work is addressed primarily to relational egalitarian scholars, as well as others who are convinced by the value of relational equality as a worthy moral and political ideal. My aim is to prove that their goal implies embracing equality of distribution beyond relational equality. When making the case that relational egalitarians should take equality seriously, I claim that they should refrain from embracing distributive principles other than – or incompatible with – principles of distributive equality. This statement entails both a negative and a positive thesis. On the negative side, we should be critical toward the prominent tendency within the relational egalitarian debate, as influenced by the work of Elizabeth Anderson, to reject claims of distributive egalitarian justice in favour of sufficientarian claims of distribution. On the positive side, distributive equality is required by the logic of relational egalitarianism, although its normative significance exists independently of it. While presenting my statements, I provide support for the externalist understanding of relational equality as most recently advanced by Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, through which the egalitarian character of someone’s relation depends on features external to their relation, such as on the distribution of the relevant currency among them. Whether or not individuals relate to one another as equals – I maintain – depends not merely on the internal feature of their relation, that is, on how they perceive or regard one another, but also, significantly, on how goods such as resources, welfare or opportunities are distributed among them. On my account, individuals are only equals when they recognize each other as equal in status and grant one another an equal share of the justice-relevant good. In defending my thesis, I critically engage with the literature on both distributive egalitarianism and relational egalitarianism. In particular, in the first part, I reconstruct the egalitarian debate and its approach to equality as either a relational or a distributive ideal. In the second part, I question such either/or relation by arguing that relational equality implies distributive equality, because arbitrary distributive inequality violates the deliberative constraint of relating as equals. I strengthen this claim by looking at the particular instantiation of distributive inequality in the field of education, and unveil its theoretical implications while supporting the project of reconciling distributive egalitarian and relational egalitarian approaches to justice. In my view, relational and distributive egalitarianism are compatible theories within one and the same egalitarian framework. Their normative outcomes are – at least in part – equivalent.

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Eva Maria Parisi
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München (PhD)

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