Why does equality across persons matter morally? An equal split can be instrumentally useful, for example, when a parent is dividing treats among hawk-eyed children, who will squawk at unequal distribution. Does equality of some sort matter morally and noninstrumentally, for its own sake? If so, which sort? If so, on what grounds?
The claim this essay shall explore is that the equality that matters morally in itself or for its own sake is equality in the lifetime well-being enjoyed by persons. Every term in this seemingly bland formulation contains a land mine that can explode into controversy. Stepping carefully around controversy, I for the most part limit myself to highlighting some issues that would need to be settled in order to arrive at a reasoned verdict on this claim. I defend the claim mainly by trying to show that some objections that might appear to be decisive against it are targeting particular stances on one or another of these issues that need clarification, and that some clarifications do not require commitment to the stance that prompts the apparently decisive objection. In other words, I pursue an evasive strategy of ducking and weaving. Readers will have to judge whether ducking some objections in this way leaves the doctrine under review still vulnerable to fatally damaging blows.
The strategy pursued here of defending an initially controversial assertion by making concessions to critics with a view to showing what is left as a residue to be a promising and plausible view worth further inquiry risks another kind of failure, that of suffering death by a thousand qualifications. The worry is that after the concessions there does not remain a sufficiently substantive and interesting claim to be worth further discussion. I try to guard against this disappointing upshot by indicating that the egalitarianism I defend is one that many thoughtful people deplore, especially if it is advanced, as I do, as a morally legitimate basis for state action.
Lawrence Alexander & Steven D. Smith
Arneson, Richard J.
"Which Inequalities Matter?,"
The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues: Vol. 23:
2, Article 2.
Available at: https://digital.sandiego.edu/jcli/vol23/iss2/2