Reading Guide For Anderson

“Against Luck Egalitarianism: What is the Point of Equality?”

Chapter 7 of Social Justice, eds. Clayton & Williams, pp.154-185


In the years since A Theory of Justice, Rawls’s view has risen to prominence among philosophers and political theorists in many disciplines. One recent descendent of Rawls’s theory of justice is what Anderson calls “luck egalitarianism” or “equality of fortune”. This widely-held view takes its start from Rawls’s argument that all socially advantageous characteristics (e.g. athletic talent, intelligence, being born into a wealthy family, etc.) are arbitrary and so cannot ground legitimate claims to increased possession of goods like wealth and social status. Luck egalitarians develop this view by arguing that the goal of justice ought to be the elimination of all forms of inequality resulting from bad luck (inequalities resulting from choice are left untouched). After giving a description of the view, Anderson argues against it, and in its place she urges what she calls “democratic egalitarianism”. Anderson’s democratic egalitarianism is deeply influenced by Nobel Prize winning philosopher and economist Amartya Sen’s approach to social justice. Sen’s theory, in a form developed and made well-known by Martha Nussbaum, is called the “capabilities approach”. Anderson’s democratic egalitarianism is a fusion of insights from feminist critique, a political understanding of equality, and the capabilities approach.


I. Justice as Equality of Fortune
• Description of luck egalitarianism
• “Option luck” distinguished from “brute luck”
• Recounting of internal debate among luck egalitarians: resourcists vs. welfarists
• Dworkin’s definition of ‘envy’
II. The Victims of Bad Option Luck
• Rakowski’s luck egalitarianism
• 8 problems for luck egalitarians concerning option luck
• Extension of critique to luck egalitarians other than Rakowski
• The problem of paternalism
III. The Victims of Bad Brute Luck
• Argument that luck egalitarianism doesn’t include the right persons as subjects of justice
• Argument that luck egalitarianism doesn’t respect those to whom it would direct aid.
IV. The Ills of Luck Egalitarianism: A Diagnosis
• Luck egalitarianism as a “starting gate” theory
• Intrusiveness and coerciveness
• A flawed picture of individuals
V. What is the Point of Equality?
• The political point of equality
• Definition, “democratic equality”
• Contrast: democratic equality and equality of fortune
VI. Equality in the Space of Freedom: A Capabilities Approach
• Definition of ‘functionings’ and ‘capabilities’
• Aspects of human functionings and their requirements
• Structure of egalitarian guarantees
VII. Participation as an Equal in a System of Cooperative Production
• Cohen’s principle of interpersonal justification
• Conditions favored by democratic equality
VIII. Democratic Equality and the Obligations of Citizens
• Summary and conclusion

Study Questions

1. In section I of the essay, Anderson delineates a number of key concepts. Define each of the following:

a. luck egalitarianism (a.k.a. “equality of fortune”)
b. the two moral premises of luck egalitarianism
c. option luck
d. brute luck
e. envy

2. Anderson begins her discussion of the failings of luck egalitarianism by setting out Rakowski’s view as a foil. Describe this view and the eight problems she attributes to it.

3. To the many problems she raises for luck egalitarianism, Anderson anticipates the response of Richard Arneson. How does she think Arneson would reply to her delineation of the problems of luck egalitarianism? What further problem does she think his reply raises?

4. In section III Anderson argues that “Equality of fortune (i.e. luck egalitarianism) disparages the internally disadvantaged and raises private disdain to the status of officially recognized truth.” What does this mean, and why does she say it? How does the distinction she makes between compassion and pity figure into her answer to this failing of luck egalitarianism?

5. What does Anderson identify as the causes of the problems of luck egalitarianism in section IV? Do you, at this point in the reading, agree that luck egalitarianism has the flaws she says it does? Support your position thoroughly.

6. In section V Anderson begins setting out her own version by reconceiving the nature of inequality in terms of Young’s “faces of oppression”. Summarize these “faces of oppression”. How do they bear on the type of inequality at which Anderson aims?

7. Describe Anderson’s “democratic conception of equality”? In what five ways, according to Anderson, does the democratic conception of equality address oppression?

8. In section VI, Anderson develops her “democratic conception of equality” by drawing on Amartya Sen’s notion of functionings and capabilities. Define each of these terms. What capabilities does Anderson think society is obligated to equalize?

9. What does Anderson mean when she says that “access to the egalitarian capabilities is market-inalienable”? Comment on whether or not you think this ideal holds in our current society. If you think it doesn’t, what do you think realizing it would entail? Would it entail more “luck egalitarianism” than Anderson might sanction? Defend your answer.

10. Comment on Anderson’s description of how the democratic conception of equality avoids paternalism. How do you think that someone like Nozick would reply to this claim of Anderson’s? Which one do you think would be right? Why?

11. In section VII Anderson holds that achieving democratic equality would require that persons in society adopt Cohen’s “principle of interpersonal justification”. Give this principle, and think critically about what public discussion might look like in a society that accepted it. What effect, if any, do you think this principle might have on the liberty that Anderson wants to protect?

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