The Paideia Project (1998)
I take up the "What is equality?" controversy begun by Amartya Sen in 1979 by critically considering utility (J. S. Mill), primary goods (John Rawls), property rights (John Roemer) and basic capabilities in terms of what is to be distributed according to principles and theories of social justice. I then consider the four most general principles designed to answer issues raised by the Equality of Welfare principle, Equality of Opportunity for Welfare principle, Equality of Resources principle and Equality of Opportunity for Resources principle. I consider each with respect to the more general normative principle that whatever theory of social or distributive justice we accept should be as ambition sensitive and endowment insensitive as feasible in real world circumstances. In this context I take up the problems of expensive tastes, expensive disabilities, lowered or manipulated preferences or ‘needs,’ and differential needs versus differential talents and abilities. I argue that the best solution is to adopt a modified version of Rawls’ theory which takes primary social goods as that which is to be distributed but which demands a Basic Rights principle that insures basic subsistent rights (as well as basic security rights) as the most fundamental principle of morality (and social justice), and then demands that Rawls’ Difference Principle be applied lexically to the ‘material’ goods of income, wealth, and leisure time, but done so that the social basis of self-respect is never undermined.