Luck egalitarianism

Luck egalitarianism

Luck egalitarianism is a view about distributive justice espoused by a variety of egalitarian and left-wing political philosophers. According to this view, justice demands that variations in how well off people are should be wholly attributable to the responsible choices people make and not to differences in their unchosen circumstances. This expresses the intuition that it is a bad thing for some people to be worse off than others through no fault of their own.

Luck egalitarians therefore distinguish between outcomes that are the result of brute luck (e.g. misfortunes in genetic makeup, or being struck by a bolt of lightning) and those that are the consequence of conscious options (such as career choice or fair gambles). Luck egalitarianism is intended as a fundamental normative idea that might guide our thinking about justice rather than as an immediate policy prescription. The idea has its origin in John Rawls's thought that distributive shares should not be influenced by arbitrary factors, but Rawls was not himself a luck egalitarian. Luck egalitarians disagree among themselves about the proper way to measure how well off people are (for instance, whether we should measure material wealth, psychological happiness or some other factor) and the related issue of how to assess the value of their resources.

Prominent advocates of luck egalitarianism have included Ronald Dworkin, Richard Arneson, Gerald Cohen, John Roemer, and Eric Rakowski. The position is controversial within some currents of egalitarian thought, and the philosopher [ Elizabeth S. Anderson] has been a vocal critic of it — on the ground that, amongst other things, the fact that something is chosen does not necessarily make it acceptable. An example of this would be a robber offering someone a choice between their money and their life. She also claims that luck egalitarianism expresses a demeaning pity towards the disadvantaged. Neither of these criticisms is accepted by luck egalitarianism's proponents.

Many philosophers think that the term "luck egalitarianism" is a misnomer, because many so-called "luck egalitarians" (of the 'resourcist' strand at least) do not in fact want to equalize luck or eliminate uncertainty, but instead believe that individuals should be equal in the amount of resources they have when facing luck or uncertainty.


* Ronald Dworkin, "Sovereign Virtue" (2000).
* Susan L. Hurley, "Justice, Luck and Knowledge" (2003).
* G. A. Cohen, 'On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice', "Ethics" (1989), pp. 906-944.
* Richard Arneson, 'Equality and Equal Opportunity for Welfare', "Philosophical Studies" (1989), pp. 77-93.
* Elizabeth S. Anderson, 'What is the Point of Equality?' "Ethics" (1999), pp. 287–337.
* Alexander Kaufman, ‘Choice, Responsibility and Equality’, "Political Studies" 52 (2004): 819-836.
* Alexander Brown, ‘Luck Egalitarianism and Democratic Equality’, "Ethical Perspectives" 12, no. 3 (2005): 293-339.
* Carl Knight, ‘In Defence of Luck Egalitarianism’, "Res Publica" 11 (2005): 55–73
* Shlomi Segall, ‘In Solidarity with the Imprudent: A Defense of Luck Egalitarianism’, "Social Theory and Practice", Vol. 33, no. 2 (April 2007).
* Kristin Voigt, ‘The Harshness Objection: Is Luck Egalitarianism Too Harsh on the Victims of Option Luck?’ "Ethic Theory Moral Practice" 10 (2007): 389–407

External links

* [ BEARS Symposium on Anderson's critique of luck egalitarianism including a contribution from Richard Arneson and a reply by Anderson ]

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