Egalitarianism Presentation -- January 20, 2009

1. Introduction to the course and the requirements

  • course readings and discussions
  • presentations – sign up sheet
  • seminar papers: topics 4/7; first draft 4/28; final version 5/5
  • weekly curmudgeons?

2. Equality

  • a foundational value in ethics?
  • a crucial value in modern political philosophy
  • some words about the history of concerns about equality – are modern concerns parochial and misguided?
  • How is equality related to other values such as rights, freedoms, solidarity, and welfare?
    • compatible or competing?
    • dependent on other values or supporting them or independent?
    • overwhelming, significant, or relatively trivial weight?
  • "factual" or "actual" equality. "All men are created equal"
    • Is there any interpretation that is non-trivial and true?
    • metaphysical vs. actual equality
    • Is actual equality needed as a "basis" for normative equality claims?
  • normative equality: "People ought to be treated equally"
    • formal equality or universalizability
    • equality before the law
    • equality of respect
    • common humanity
    • Outcomes, resources, political influence or opportunities ought to be equal.
  • What does equality require with respect to needed but scarce goods?
  • What does equality involve with respect to "competitive goods" (i.e. goods that are widely desired, "earned", and scarce?


  • As a political position
    • What does it demand? Which differences among people are objectionable and which are acceptable?
    • How can it be defended?
    • What are the main objections to it?
    • What would an egalitarian utopia look like?
    • What would a feasible egalitarian utopia look like? How can principles of normative equality be implemented?
  • As a distinctive position in political philosophy
    • What claims about actual equalities does it make?
    • What principles of normative equality does egalitarianism rely on?
    • What priority principles weighting equality compared to other values are egalitarians committed to?
    • Are all the concerns of egalitarians compatible?
    • Is egalitarianism a single political philosophy or a family of related positions?