We are unable to display your institutional affiliation without JavaScript turned on.
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Find using OpenURL

Two Models of Equality and Responsibility

From: Canadian Journal of Philosophy
Volume 38, Number 2, June 2008
pp. 165-199 | 10.1353/cjp.0.0018

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

I Introduction

1. Much recent political philosophy has focused on the role of responsibility within liberal-egalitarian theories of justice.1 John Rawls's theory, in particular, has come in for criticism in virtue of its account of responsibility, which Rawls takes to be tied to his account of primary goods. Primary goods themselves have been rejected as the appropriate 'currency' (or metric) of distributive justice, while Rawls's treatment of responsibility has been criticized as implausible or even inconsistent. These criticisms have given rise to much of the constructive work political philosophy has done after Rawls's Theory - one may think of the work of Richard Arneson, G. A. Cohen, Ronald Dworkin, and John Roemer, for whom a major concern is to make more room for a suitable notion of responsibility.2 Their efforts are shaped by a distinction between 'choice' and 'circumstance': individuals should possess distributive shares in accordance with their choices (for which they are responsible) and be compensated for disadvantages they have because of their circumstances (for which they are not). These writers are sometimes called luck-egalitarians (cf. Anderson (1999) and Scheffler (2003)), but their concerns are more aptly emphasized by calling them, following Arneson, responsibility-catering egalitarians.

There are two accounts of how responsibility-catering egalitarianism relates to Rawls's Theory. The first emphasizes continuity: Rawls offers insights about the role of responsibility in social justice but leaves them underdeveloped, and it is up to others to fill the gap. The second account emphasizes discontinuity: to the detriment of his theory, Rawls fails to discuss responsibility adequately, and thus social justice must be reconceived to accommodate an appropriate notion of responsibility. The continuity reading appears in Kymlicka (2002), and a recent interview suggests that Dworkin also endorses it (cf. Pauer-Studer (2002)).3 The discontinuity reading appears in Roemer (1996). We believe there are strands in Rawls (1999a) to support both readings, but on balance, as Scheffler (2003) also argues, the discontinuity approach is the better reading: the differences between a Rawlsian account of social justice and responsibility-catering egalitarianism are too big to support an account highlighting continuity. In this spirit, we must proceed to offering actual responses to the objections to Rawls's treatment of responsibility that motivate responsibility-catering egalitarianism.4

2. Much of this debate overlooks a central distinction within the taxonomy of theories of justice. There exist two different visions of how a liberal-egalitarian theory of justice can integrate considerations of distributive equality. On the first account, distributive equality - of whatever it is that is distributed - is a necessary implication of the foundational moral commitments of a theory of justice. We will refer to this type of theory as a direct theory of distributive justice. There are at least two possible ways in which such a theory might be constructed. The moral relevance of distributive equality might be understood in axiomatic terms: for such a theory, the distributive equality is the foundational commitment of the theory, and there are no more basic claims from which distributive equality is actually derived. Such accounts are committed to distributive equality at the axiomatic level. The currency, or metric, of distributive justice is such that distributive equality is by itself a demand of liberal egalitarianism. More often, however, the moral relevance of distributive equality is understood as an immediate implication of some more foundational notion of equal respect for persons, or some similar notion of moral equality. Such accounts are committed to distributive equality as a direct derivation of their moral axioms. While equal distribution of the currency of distributive justice is not here an axiomatic demand of liberal egalitarianism, equal distribution follows, without additional assumptions, from the conception of equality developed. Treating people as moral equals, for such theories, implies the provision of equal distributive shares. For our purposes, what links such theories and axiomatic theories is the fact that in both cases distributive conclusions may be derived from abstract moral egalitarianism. We will refer to all such theories as direct theories of distributive justice.5

The alternative account might be referred to as an indirect theory of distributive justice. Here, distributive equality may be derived from an account of equal...

You must be logged in through an institution that subscribes to this journal or book to access the full text.


Shibboleth authentication is only available to registered institutions.

Project MUSE

For subscribing associations only.