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date: 02 March 2021

Equality and Political Philosophylocked

  • Iwao HiroseIwao HiroseDepartment of Philosophy, McGill University
  •  and Shlomi SegallShlomi SegallDepartment of Political Science, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Summary

Equality is an undisputed political and moral value. But until quite recently, political philosophers have not fully explored its complexity. The literature on equality and egalitarianism is vast, complex, and multilayered—with over thirty-five years of philosophical discussion. Specifically, there are three major questions to ask about equality. First, what is equality? This question can be unpacked into two sub-questions. Distinguishing first between formal and distributive accounts of equality, we may ask what the currency of egalitarianism can be. The article goes through currencies such as welfare, resources, and capabilities, showing their respective strengths and weaknesses. A second important sub-question here is: what are the relevant scope and temporal dimensions of equality? Among whom is equality valuable, and precisely in what time frame is it valuable?

This hints at the second major question, namely concerning the value of equality. Is equality indeed valuable, or are we confusing it with some other value, be it giving priority to the worse-off, or lifting individuals above a certain threshold of deprivation? The article goes through some famous criticisms of equality’s purported lack of value (e.g. the leveling down objection), explores some potential answers, and then examines the relative strength of equality’s two main rivals, namely priority and sufficiency.

The third major question concerns what the proper account is of egalitarian justice. In particular, setting aside the question of currency, should our conception of distributive justice be informed by responsibility-sensitive accounts, or rather be focused on a responsibility-insensitive accounts that moreover place an emphasis on equality of relations rather than individuals’ holdings? We explore this in the two final sections, one devoted to understanding luck egalitarianism, and the other to its rival, relational egalitarianism.

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