In her recent, provocative essay “What Is the Point of Equality?”, Elizabeth Anderson argues against a common ideal of egalitarian justice that she calls “ luck egalitarianism” and in favor of an approach she calls “democratic equality.”1 According to the luck egalitarian, the aim of justice as equality is to eliminate so far as is possible the impact on people’s lives of bad luck that falls on them through no fault or choice of their own. In the ideal luck egalitarian (...) society, there are no inequalities in people’s life prospects except those that arise through processes of voluntary choice or faulty conduct, for which the agents involved can reasonably be held responsible. Anderson asserts that the adherents of luck egalitarianism, which can be elaborated in many different ways, include John Roemer, Erik Rakowski, Thomas Nagel, Ronald Dworkin, Gerald Cohen, Richard Arneson, and Philippe Van Parijs.2 In contrast, according to the democratic equality conception, justice as equality requires an end to oppressive social relationships. In the ideal society of democratic equality, the social conditions of everyone’s freedom are secured, each stands to every other in a relationship of fundamental equality, including equal respect, and all have real freedom to participate in democratic self-government. (shrink)
What is the good for human persons? If I am trying to lead the best possible life I could lead, not the morally best life, but the life that is best for me, what exactly am I seeking? This phrasing of the question I will be pursuing may sound tendentious, so some explanation is needed. What is good for one person, we ordinarily suppose, can conflict with what is good for other persons and with what is required by morality. A (...) prudent person seeks her own good efficiently; she selects the best available means to her good. If we call the value that a person seeks when she is being prudent “prudential value,” then an alternative rendering of the question to be addressed in this essay is “What is prudential value?” We can also say that an individual flourishes or has a life high in well-being when her life is high in prudential value. Of course, these common-sense appearances that the good for an individual, the good for other persons, and the requirements of morality often are in conflict might be deceiving. For all that I have said here, the correct theory of individual good might yield the result that sacrificing oneself for the sake of other people or for the sake of a morally worthy cause can never occur, because helping others and being moral always maximize one's own good. But this would be the surprising result of a theory, not something we should presuppose at the start of inquiry. When a friend has a baby and I express a conventional wish that the child have a good life, I mean a life that is good for the child, not a life that merely helps others or merely respects the constraints of morality. After all, a life that is altruistic and perfectly moral, we suppose, could be a life that is pure hell for the person who lives it—a succession of horrible headaches marked by no achievements or attainments of anything worthwhile and ending in agonizing death at a young age. So the question remains, what constitutes a life that is good for the person who is living it? (shrink)
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In recent years some moral philosophers and political theorists, who have come to be called “luck egalitarians,” have urged that the essence of social justice is the moral imperative to improve the condition of people who suffer from simple bad luck. Prominent theorists who have attracted the luck egalitarian label include Ronald Dworkin, G. A. Cohen, and John Roemer.1 Larry Temkin should also be included in this group, as should Thomas Nagel at the time that he wrote Equality and Partiality.2 (...) However, each of these theorists asserts a different position. The common ground, if any, is obscure. The idea of luck that is invoked is not transparently clear. Anyway, the term “luck egalitarianism” was coined by a critic of the doctrine, and tendentiously defined to denote an extreme version of the view that looks implausible from the start.3 With some justice Ronald Dworkin, perhaps the chief architect of the luck egalitarian position, has denied that he is a luck egalitarian. (shrink)
Joel Feinberg was a brilliant philosopher whose work in social and moral philosophy is a legacy of excellent, even stunning achievement. Perhaps his most memorable achievement is his four-volume treatise on The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law, and perhaps the most striking jewel in this crowning achievement is his passionate and deeply insightful treatment of paternalism.1 Feinberg opposes Legal Paternalism, the doctrine that “it is always a good reason in support of a [criminal law] prohibition that it is necessary (...) to prevent harm (physical, psychological, or economic) to the actor himself.” Against this doctrine Feinberg asserts that when an agent’s sufficiently voluntary choice causes harm to herself or risk of harm to herself, this category of harm-to-self is never a good reason in support of criminal law prohibition of that type of conduct. (shrink)
Philosophers perennially debate the nature of the good for humans. Is it subjective or objective? That is to say, do the things that are intrinsically good for an agent, good for their own sakes and apart from further consequences, acquire this status only in virtue of how she happens to regard them? Or are there things that are good in themselves for an individual independently of her desires and attitudes toward them? The issue sounds recondite, but has been thought to (...) be pregnant with implications for politics as it ought to be. Plato vigorously insists that knowledge of the good is precious and the person who has it is uniquely fit to rule: "In the world of knowledge, the last thing to be perceived and only with great difficulty is the essential Form of Goodness. Once it is perceived, the conclusion must follow that, for all things, this is the cause of whatever is right and good; in the visible world it gives birth to the light and to the lord of light, while it is itself sovereign in the intelligible world and the parent of wisdom and truth. Without having had a vision of this Form no one can act with wisdom, either in his own life or in matters of state.". (shrink)
This essay surveys varieties of the luck egalitarian project in an exploratory spirit, seeking to identify lines of thought that are worth developing further and that might ultimately prove morally acceptable. I do not attend directly to the critics and assess their concerns; I have done that in other essays. 7 I do seek to identify some large fault lines, divisions in ways of approaching the task of constructing a theory of justice or of conceiving its substance. These are controversial (...) in the sense that in the present state of discussion it is unclear how best to view them or to which side it is better to scramble. But in the end of course I’m not a moral geographer and map-maker, just an involved spectator/tourist offering yet another view of the cathedral. (shrink)
Should government be neutral "on the question of the good life, or of what gives value to life"?1 Some political theorists propose that governmental neutrality is a core commitment of any liberalism worth the name and a requirement of justice. For them, neutrality is the appropriate generalization of the ideal of religious tolerance. The state should be neutral in matters of religion, and neutral also in all controversies concerning the nature of the good or the ways in which it is (...) valuable and worthwhile to live. (shrink)
All humans have an equal basic moral status. They possess the same fundamental rights, and the comparable interests of each person should count the same in calculations that determine social policy. Neither supposed racial differences, nor skin color, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, intelligence, nor any other differences among humans negate their fundamental equal worth and dignity. These platitudes are virtually universally affirmed. A white supremacist racist or an admirer of Adolf Hitler who denies them is rightly regarded as beyond the (...) pale of civilized dialogue.2 However, a very simple line of argument developed by Peter Singer challenges our understanding of these platitudes and forces us to rethink the basis and nature of the moral equality of all humans.3 One might try to explain the equal moral status of humans by appeal to our common humanity—all humans are all equally human, after all. But mere species membership is not a sufficient basis for picking out some beings as entitled to greater moral consideration than other beings. If we were to encounter alien beings from another planet, something that looks like green slime but engages in complex behaviors, we would not be justified in failing to extend respectful treatment to the aliens merely on the ground that they belong to another species. If they proved to be like humans in morally relevant respects, then they should be treated the same as humans. Very roughly speaking, if the aliens showed a capacity for rational, autonomous agency, we would be required to include them within the scope of our moral principles. This thought experiment suggests a justification for our current practice of according all and only human beings a special moral status and relegating all nonhuman animals to a lower moral status. There is some intellectual capacity or set of intellectual capacities, call it X, that entitles the possessor of X to treatment as an equal member of the class of persons, to whom special moral principles apply.. (shrink)
This essay examines several possible rationales for the egalitarian judgment that justice requires better-off individuals to help those who are worse off even in the absence of social interaction. These rationales include equality (everyone should enjoy the same level of benefits), moral meritocracy (each should get benefits according to her responsibility or deservingness), the threshold of sufficiency (each should be assured a minimally decent quality of life), prioritarianism (a function of benefits to individuals should be maximized that gives priority to (...) the worse off), and mixed views. A case is made for adopting either prioritarianism or a mixed view that gives priority both to the worse off and to the more responsible and deserving. (shrink)
Motivation to Permissibility 780 III. The Deception Accounts of Wrongful Discrimination 783 IV. Discrimination from Animus and Prejudice 787 V. An Objection 789 VI. Innocent Discrimination 790 VII. Disparate Impact 793 VIII. Suspect Classifications 795..
If you came upon a small child drowning in a pond, you ought to save the child even at considerable cost and risk to yourself. In 1972 Peter Singer observed that inhabitants of affluent industrialized societies stand in exactly the same relationship to the millions of poor inhabitants of poor undeveloped societies that you would stand to the small child drowning in the example just given. Given that you ought to help the drowning child, by parity of reasoning we ought (...) to help the impoverished needy persons around the globe. To capture this intuition Singer proposed this principle of benevolence: If one can prevent some significant bad from occurring, without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, one ought morally to do so.1 Premature death caused by preventable disease, injury, and poverty is uncontroversially a significant bad. Donations to charitable organizations such as Oxfam can prevent many of these deaths around the world, so Singer’s principle holds that we ought to donate (or take some action that is comparably efficient at saving lives). (shrink)
Some theories of justice hold that individuals placed in fortunate circumstances through no merit or choice of their own are morally obligated to aid individuals placed in unfortunate circumstances through no fault or choice of their own. In these theories what are usually regarded as obligations of benevolence are reinterpreted as strict obligations of justice. A closely related view is that the institutions of a society should be arranged in a way that gives priority to helping people placed in unfortunate (...) circumstances through no fault or choice of their own. Any theory of this type needs a way of assessing individuals’ circumstances to determine who is fortunate and who is unfortunate. (shrink)
Recently in the U.S. a near-consensus has formed around the idea that it would be desirable to "end welfare as we know it," in the words of President Bill Clinton.1 In this context, the term "welfare" does not refer to the entire panoply of welfare state provision including government sponsored old age pensions, government provided medical care for the elderly, unemployment benefits for workers who have lost their jobs without being fired for cause, or aid to the disabled. "Welfare" in (...) contemporary debates means "cash, food, or housing assistance to healthy nonaged persons with low incomes."2 In the U.S., the main policy that qualifies as welfare in this sense is Aid to Families with Dependent Children.3 Although contemporary attacks on welfare are identified with conservative policy analysts such as Charles Murray, in fact dissatisfaction with the policies Murray targets for criticism is widespread among liberal intellectuals. For example, in a sharply critical review essay on Murray's book Losing Ground, Christopher Jencks worries that "the social policies that prevailed from 1964 to 1980 often seemed to reward vice" instead of rewarding virtuous conduct by the poor. The problem as Jencks, following Murray, views it is not easy to repair, because "if you set out to help people who are in trouble, you almost always find that most of them are to some extent responsible for their present troubles. Few victims are completely innocent. Helping those who are not doing their best to help themselves poses extraordinarily difficult moral and political problems."4 David T. Ellwood writes that Murray “is almost certainly correct in stating that welfare does not reflect or reinforce our most basic values. He is also correct in stating that no amount of tinkering with benefit levels or work rules will change that.”. (shrink)
This paper attempts a defense of John Stuart Mill’s absolute ban against paternalistic restrictions on liberty. Mill’s principle looks more credible once we recognize that some instances of what are thought to be justified instances of paternalism are not instances of paternalism at all—e.g. anti-duelling laws. An interpretation of Mill’s argument is advanced which stresses his commitment to autonomy and his suggestion that exactly the same reasons which favor absolute freedom of speech also favor an absolute prohibition of paternalism. Alternative (...) expositions and appraisals of Mill by Gerald Dworkin and Joel Feiriberg are criticized. Finally, consideration is given to two arguments that render Mill’s principle trivial via the denial that there are any significant self-regarding actions. (shrink)
Left-libertarianism is a version of Lockean libertarianism that combines the idea that each person is the full rightful owner of herself and the idea that each person should have the right to own a roughly equal amount of the world's resources. This essay argues against left-libertarianism. The specific target is an interesting form of left-libertarianism proposed by Michael Otsuka that is especially stringent in its equal world ownership claim. One criticism advanced is that there is more tension than Otsuka acknowledges (...) between private ownership of self and equal ownership of the world. This emerges once one notices that self-ownership should not be conceived merely in a thin, formal way but also as a thicker substantive insistence on wide individual freedom. A second criticism is that in other respects the formal idea of self-ownership that Otsuka and other left-libertarians embrace is an extreme doctrine that merits rejection. (shrink)
This essay disputes G. A. Cohen's claim that John Rawls's argument for the difference principle involves an argument from moral arbitrariness to equality and then an illicit move away from equality. Moreover, the claim that an argument from moral arbitrariness establishes equality as the essential distributive justice ideal is found wanting.
Exploitation is interacting with another in a way that takes unfair advantage of that person. Exploitation is thought to be morally wrong even when it would bring about the best attainable outcome, hence conflicts with the consequentialist morality that holds one ought always to do whatever would bring about the best outcome. This essay aims to reconcile norms against exploitation and act consequentialism. A puzzle about exploitation is raised and resolved.
Amartya Sen is a renowned economist who has also made important contributions to philosophical thinking about distributive justice. These contributions tend to take the form of criticism of inadequate positions and insistence on making distinctions that will promote clear thinking about the topic. Sen is not shy about making substantive normative claims, but thus far he has avoided commitment to a theory of justice, in the sense of a set of principles that specifies what facts are relevant for policy choice (...) and determines, given a full characterization of any situation in terms of these relevant facts, what ought to be done in that situation. Moreover, Sen has expressed skepticism about the existence of a fully adequate theory in this sense. According to Sen there is a plurality of moral considerations that bear on choice of action and policy and no particular reason to think that weights can be attached nonarbitrarily to each consideration to yield a theory.1 “Sen’s proposal is that distributive justice entails equalizing midfare levels across persons,” writes John Roemer.2 “Other things being equal,” one has to add by way of correction to Roemer’s formulation. Sen holds that we should be concerned with the extent of people’s capability or freedom to attain midfare as well as the midfare level actually reached. Sen holds that distributive values.. (shrink)
Would a just society or government absolutely refrain from shaming or humiliating any of its members? "No," says this essay. It describes morally acceptable uses of shame, stigma and disgust as tools of social control in a decent (just) society. These uses involve criminal law, tort law, and informal social norms. The standard of moral acceptability proposed for determining the line is a version of perfectionistic prioritarian consequenstialism. From this standpoint, criticism is developed against Martha Nussbaum's view that to respect (...) the dignity of each person, society absolutely must refrain from certain ways of shaming and humiliating its members and rendering them objects of communal disgust. (shrink)
Democratic instrumentalism is the combination of two ideas. One is instrumentalism regarding political arrangements: the form of government that ought to be instituted and sustained in a political society is the one the consequences of whose operation would be better than those of any feasible alternative. The second idea is the claim that under modern conditions democratic political institutions would be best according to the instrumentalist norm and ought to be established. “Democratic instrumentalism” is not a catchy political slogan apt (...) for car bumper stickers. To my knowledge people have never marched in solidarity under its banner. In fact it is a dreary political abstraction. Yet it has a lot going for it, morally, politically, and intellectually. This essay defends democratic instrumentalism.1 The democratic instrumentalist opposes the doctrine of the divine right of kings along with the idea that aristocrats are inherently more worthy than commoners and as such are uniquely entitled to rule. Striking a more controversial note, the democratic instrumentalist also opposes the suggestion that each adult person has a fundamental moral right to be admitted as a full member of some political society, entitled to run for office and vote (on a one person, one vote basis) in free elections that select the public officials in top government posts and directly or indirectly determine the content of the laws and policies that the government enforces on all members of the society. Call this the right to a democratic say.2 Here a moral right is an individual claim that others ought to honor. If one has a moral right, one is wronged if others do not honor it; a given right is constituted by specified duties that specified others are bound to fulfill. A fundamental moral right holds independently of social and political arrangements, cultural understandings, or people’s opinions. It also holds, at least to some degree, independently of the consequences that would ensue if it were upheld or not upheld.3 A fundamental moral right might be hedged with conditions.. (shrink)
In their celebrated essay “The Right to Privacy,” legal scholars Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis identified as the generic privacy value “the right to be let alone.” This same phrase occurs in Justice Brandeis's dissent in Olmstead v. U.S.. This characterization of privacy has been found objectionable by philosophers acting as conceptual police. For example, moral philosopher William Parent asserts that one can wrongfully fail to let another person alone in all sorts of ways—such as assault—that intuitively do not qualify (...) as violations of privacy and thus cannot be violations of the right to privacy. (shrink)
Some theorists who accept the existence of global justice duties to alleviate the condition of distant needy strangers hold that these duties are significantly constrained by special ties to fellow countrymen. The patriotic priority thesis holds that morality requires the members of each nation-state to give priority to helping needy fellow compatriots over more needy distant strangers. Three arguments for constraint and patriotic priority are examined in this essay: an argument from fair play, one from coercion, another from coercion and (...) autonomy. Under scrutiny, none of these arguments qualifies as successful. (shrink)
The theory of justice pioneered by John Rawls explores a simple idea--that the concern of distributive justice is to compensate individuals for misfortune. Some people are blessed with good luck, some are cursed with bad luck, and it is the responsibility of society--all of us regarded collectively--to alter the distribution of goods and evils that arises from the jumble of lotteries that constitutes human life as we know it. Some are lucky to be born wealthy, or into a favorable socializing (...) environment, or with a tendency to be charming and intelligent and persevering and the like. These people are likely to be successful in the economic marketplace and to achieve success in other important ways over the course of their lives. On the other hand some people are, as we say, born to lose. Distributive justice stipulates that the lucky should transfer some or all of their gains due to luck to the unlucky. (shrink)
The popularity of rule-consequentialism among philosophers has waxed and waned. Waned, mostly; at least lately. The idea that the morality that ought to claim allegiance is the ideal code of rules whose acceptance by everybody would bring about best consequences became the object of careful analysis about half a century ago, in the writings of J. J. C. Smart, John Rawls, David Lyons, Richard Brandt, Richard Hare, and others.1 They considered utilitarian versions of rule consequentialism but discovered flaws in the (...) view that attach to the wider consequentialist doctrine. In the eyes of many, the flaws were decisive. Brad Hooker has produced brilliant work that unsettles this complacent consensus.2 Over a period of several years he has produced a sustained and powerful defense of a version of rule consequentialism that does not obviously succumb to the criticisms that have been thought to render this doctrine a nonstarter. He acknowledges intellectual debts to Richard Brandt. But Hooker avoid certain excrescences in Brandt’s efforts to conceive of morality as an ideal code of rules. Most notably, Hooker eschews Brandt’s misguided attempt to derive some version of rule utilitarianism from an underlying commitment to some form of contractualism. Moreover, Hooker has worked to articulate a version of rule consequentialism in sufficient detail that one can see how the different parts of the doctrine hang together and how the best version of the.. (shrink)
According to the ideal of tolerance, the state is supposed to be neutral or evenhanded in its dealings with religious sects and doctrines. The tolerant state does not pursue policies aimed at favoring one sect over another.
Is there a moral right to freedom of conscience? Should a legal right to freedom of conscience be established in each country on Earth? This essay argues for negative answers to both questions. The term freedom of conscience might refer to freedom of thought and the freedom of expression that sustains freedom of thought. In this sense we might affirm the right of each person to form individual opinions about the right and the good, about what we owe one another (...) by way of due consideration of others, and about what is worthy of pursuit in life, on the basis of free discussion of these matters. In the present discussion, these freedoms, important as they might be, are not under consideration. Let us assume freedom of thought and expression are secured. The status of freedom of conscience in the sense that is our concern in this discussion is still wide open. (shrink)
Muddles can be instructive. The clarifying confusion to be examined in this paper is Isaiah Berlin's intelligent vacillation on the issue of whether or not the extent of a person's freedom depends on his desires. Is the amount of freedom an agent possesses determined solely by his objective circumstances or is it also partly a function of his subjective tastes and preferences? In clarifying this question I shall suggest that Berlin has trouble answering it because he almost perceives that interpersonal (...) cardinal measurement of freedom, if possible at all, is possible only on a subjective basis. Yet as Berlin eloquently reminds us measuring freedom according to a subjective metric generates paradox. Whether commonsense ideas of freedom are consistent and reasonable is not purely an academic issue, for we do often make political judgments to the effect that one or another policy, or a movement to one or another form of society, can be expected to reduce or enlarge human freedom. If freedom is not measurable these judgments are merely hortatory. (shrink)
If an array of goods is for sale on a market, one’s wealth, the tradeable resources one owns, determines what one can purchase from this array. One’s income is the increment in wealth one acquires over a given period of time. In any society, we observe some people having more wealth and income, some less. At any given time, in some societies average wealth is greater than in others. Across time, we can observe societies becoming richer or poorer and showing (...) more or less equal distributions of wealth among their members. Does it matter from an ethical standpoint whether some people have more income and wealth than others? Does securing a more equal distribution of income and wealth either constitute the achievement of something that is intrinsically morally desirable or serve as a reliable means to the achievement of some intrinsic moral value? If we suppose that justice demands equalizing the income of wealth of persons in many circumstances, what principles of justice generate this demand? (shrink)