Against Luck Egalitarianism

Jordan Rogers


Luck Egalitarianism: “The core idea is that inequalities in the advantages that people enjoy are acceptable if they derive from the choices that people have voluntarily made, but that inequalities deriving from unchosen features of people’s circumstances are unjust” (Scheffler 5).

I. Against Luck Egalitarianism

Challenges to the existence of the Brute/Option Luck Distinction:

  • no clear demarcation of responsibility; “up to our necks in the free will problem”

Challenges to the significance of the distinction:

A. Victims of Bad Option Luck

  • Overwhelmingly Reasonable Risks: Man opts not to wear helmet, gets hit by meteorite.
  • Abandonment of Negligent Victims: (Poor) Man rides motorcycle without helmet in the rain. Human dignity demands medical attention.
  • Abandonment of the Prudent: Woman chooses grocery bills over insurance premiums.
  • Lack of a Safety Net.
  • Paternalism: only paternalism can justify intervening on the part of the imprudent.

[Question 2]

  • Vulnerability of Dependant Caretakers / Occupational Discrimination.

[Question 1]

B. Victims of Bad Brute Luck

  • Insult: Luck egalitarianism “raises private disdain to the status of officially recognized truth” (Anderson, 306).
  • Intrusion.
  • Incentive: “It is easier to construct a sob story recounting one’s undeserved misfortunes than it is to engage in the productive work that is valued by society” (Anderson, 311).

C. General Lack of Sufficient Intuitive Support

“The more common or intuitive view, I believe, is that the fairness or unfairness of differences in advantage resulting from, on the one hand, factors beyond people’s control and, on the other hand, people’s voluntary choices, is highly dependant on the prevailing social context and institutional setting” (Scheffler, 33). (Philosophers and Athletes)

“Envy’s thought is ‘I want what you have.’ It is hard to see how such wants can generate obligations on the part of the envied” (Anderson, 307). Dan: no-envy is the test for distributive equality, not the justification for it.

II. Toward some other sort of Egalitarianism

Anderson: democratic equality is a “relational theory of equality: it views equality as a social relationship” (313). Democratic equality “locates unjust deficiencies in the social order rather than in people’s innate endowments” (336).

Anderson starts with the idea that people have equal moral worth, and the following lessons learned from luck egalitarianism (314):

  • The principles must identify market-inalienable goods that cannot be lost or taken away, except as punishment for the violation of just laws (stronger condition than market-inalienability) (no starting-gate theory)
  • Avoid paternalism
  • Remedies must match the injustice being corrected (private satisfaction / public oppression)
  • Uphold responsibility without intrusion or judgment
  • Principles must be possible objects of public willing (unlike envy, which doesn’t intuitively generate obligation)

Principle of interpersonal justification: “any consideration offered as a reason for a policy must serve to justify that policy when uttered by anyone to anyone else who participates in the economy as a worker or consumer” (Anderson, 322).

The result: (≈ Sen) guaranteed lifetime (unless you break the law) equality of (effective access to) basic capabilities necessary for participation as an equal in the social and political life of community.

Paternalism: [Question 2, again]

[Question 3]

Scheffler: The social and political deal of equality is not a distributive ideal, but rather “a moral ideal governing the relations in which people stand to one another” (21).

Both are clear that equality may have severe distributive implications (Anderson 313-4, Scheffler 22). They challenge primarily the motivation for luck-egalitarian redistribution.

[Question 4]

[Question 5]

Scheffler on Rawls:

  • Rawls is not an incipient luck egalitarian. Rawls distinguishes his theory from the “principle of redress.” Rawls wants to eliminate some, but not all, “moral arbitrariness.”
  • Luck egalitarians must look elsewhere than to Rawls to ground their theory.
  • Rawls provides a basis for some plausible form of distributive egalitarianism.