Defending luck egalitarianism

Nicholas Barry

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated abstract] In this thesis, I seek to determine whether luck egalitarianism is a compelling interpretation of egalitarian justice. In answering this question, I challenge existing interpretations and criticisms of luck egalitarianism, and highlight its radical consequences. I propose a revised theory of luck egalitarianism, and conclude that it does represent a compelling interpretation of egalitarian justice. In the first chapter, I trace the evolution of luck egalitarianism, highlighting the variety of theories that have been grouped under this label. In chapter 2, I defend the approach against an influential critique by Elizabeth Anderson, who argues that luck egalitarianism is inherently disrespectful, trapped in the distributive paradigm, and harsh in its approach towards the victims of bad option luck. I argue against these criticisms, pointing out that the harsh treatment problem will rarely arise because few inequalities result entirely from option luck, and that luck egalitarianism is not disrespectful to those it seeks to assist, nor trapped in the distributive paradigm. In chapter 3, I analyse the distinction between option luck and brute luck, which is crucial to luck egalitarianism. I argue that the option-brute distinction is inconsistent with the underlying impulse of luck egalitarianism because it allows morally arbitrary inequalities to go uncorrected and because it is insufficiently sensitive to the impact of background inequalities on individual choice. I propose a revised theory of luck egalitarianism that focuses on the extent to which a person's level of advantage has been genuinely chosen, rejecting the option-brute distinction. In chapter 4, I give a broader justification of this theory, analysing recent critiques by Susan Hurley and Samuel Scheffler, who have both questioned the moral foundations of luck egalitarianism. In chapter 5, I outline a conception of egalitarian advantage to work alongside the revised theory of luck egalitarianism. I support Cohen's claim that egalitarians should adopt a heterogeneous account of advantage, which includes resources, welfare, and midfare. ... In chapter 7, I highlight the counter-intuitive social policy applications of luck egalitarianism, arguing that the universal approach to social provision associated with the social democratic welfare state comes closer to achieving luck-egalitarian objectives than the residual and conditional provision of benefits and services that is associated with the liberal welfare state. I conclude that luck egalitarianism, in the revised form I outline in chapter 3, is a compelling interpretation of egalitarian justice.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2006


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