Equality, Democracy, and the Nature of Status: A Reply to Motchoulski

Journal of Moral Philosophy 20 (3-4):311-330 (2023)
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Several contemporary philosophers have argued that democracy earns its moral keep in part by rendering political authority compatible with social or relational equality. In a recent article in this journal, Alexander Motchoulski examines these relational egalitarian defenses of democracy, finds the standard approach wanting, and advances an alternative. The standard approach depends on the claim that inequality of political power constitutes status inequality (the ‘constitutive claim’). Motchoulski rejects this claim on the basis of a theory of social status: once you see what social status is, Motchoulski thinks, the constitutive claim is a non-starter. In its place, Motchoulski suggests that relational egalitarians can and should content themselves with a defense of democratic institutions on the basis of a causal-instrumental link between equality of political power and equality of social relations. In this reply, I advance three main claims. First, relational egalitarians have good reason to hope for a defense of the constitutive claim, since that claim is required if relational equality is to vindicate the intrinsic value of democracy. Second, Motchoulski’s argument against the constitutive claim fails, because it depends on conflating one species of social status for the genus as a whole. Finally, I argue that the constitutive claim is trivially true for one kind of status, namely de facto authority, but, since equality of that kind of status is not intrinsically valuable, this does not amount to a defense of the intrinsic value of democracy.



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Jake Zuehl
New York University

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