Reading Guide For Dworkin

“Equality of Resources”

Chapter 5 of Social Justice, eds. Clayton & Williams, pp. 110-133


This is a composite of various articles from as early as 1981 that Nozick wrote spelling out the basics of his theory of egalitarianism. Nozick's theory of egalitarianism has grown in popularity and attracted many adherents (and spawned many theoretical variants) since its appearance. The theories of both Rawls and Nozick admit of inequality in the way that resources are distributed. Nozick's view stands out as a view that emphasizes equality in the distribution of resources, but that does not come from a Marxist standpoint.


I. The Auction
• Dworkin's initial thought experiment, and his influential "envy test"
II. The Project
• A defense of the ideas of section I
III. Luck and Insurance
• Definition of "brute luck" and "option luck", and their implications
IV. Labor and Wages
• Rejection of the "starting-gate" principle of distribution
• Replies to objections about redistributing the fruits of others' labor

Study Questions

1. Dworkin begins by specifying the dimension along which he believes equality is important. In what respects does he believe people should be equal?

2. How does Dworkin characterize private ownership? Compare and contrast Dworkin and Nozick on this notion.

3. Describe Dworkin's shipwreck example, and his "envy test". Why does Dworkin think that the "envy test" would be reasonable in the shipwreck case?

4. Does the envy test imply that everyone must get what he or she wants in order for a society to be considered just? Why or why not?

5. How does the envy test translate into Dworkin's hypothetical acution? What three reasons does Dworkin give for thinking that the question of how best to realize such an auction in our society is a productive question to ask?

6. Give a brief definition of 'option luck' and of 'brute luck'. Compare and contrast the two. How, according to Dworkin, does insurance provide a link between the two?

7. Comment on the role of risk in Dworkin's model. How does willingness to accept risk imply adjustments to the envy test?

8. Summarize Dworkin's remarks on insurance and handicaps. Show how his thinking implies that a properly equal distribution of resources may not be one in which all persons have the same fixed amount of resources.

9. Explain the problem of expensive tastes (or ambitions) as Dworkin describes it on page 124. How do such tastes or ambitions figure into Dworkin's thinking about equality. Is he consistent here? (Hint: It will help you in answering this question to revisit his notion of the envy test from the beginning of the article.)

10. Describe what Dworkin calls the "starting gate" theory of distribution. How does his view differ from the starting gate theory?

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