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Social Equality

Social Equality
On What It Means to Be Equals

EDIT ED BY C A R I N A FOU R I E ,
FA B I A N S C H U P P E R T,
and
I V O WA L L I M A N N - H E L M E R

F O R E W O R D B Y DAV I D M I L L E R

1
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Social equality:on what it means to be equals / edited by Carina Fourie, Fabian Schuppert, and Ivo
Wallimann-Helmer.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 9780199331109 (hardcover :alk. paper)
1.Equality. 2.EqualityPhilosophy. I.Fourie, Carina. II.Schuppert,
Fabian. III. Wallimann-Helmer, Ivo.
HM821.S634 2015
305dc23
2014013924

135798642
Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper

CONTENTS

David MillerForeword
Acknowledgments xi
Contributors xiii

vii

The Nature and Distinctiveness of Social Equality:


AnIntroduction 1
c a r i n a f o u r i e , f a b i a n s c h u p p e r t, a n d
i v o wa l l i m a n n - h e l m e r

PA RT I T H E N AT U R E OF SOCI A L EQUA LI T Y

1. The Practice of Equality

21

samuel scheffler

2. Relational Equality, Non-Domination, and Vulnerability

45

m a r i e g a r r au a n d cci l e l a bor de

3. Conceptions and Dimensions of Social Equality

65

joh n ba k er

4. To Praise and to Scorn:The Problem of Inequalities of Esteem


for Social Egalitarianism 87
c a r i na fou r i e

5. Being Equals:Analyzing the Nature of Social


EgalitarianRelationships 107
fa bi a n s c h u ppe r t

Contents

vi

PA RT I I T H E R EL AT IONSH I P BET W E EN EQUA LI T Y,

J UST ICE , A N D POLI T IC S

6. Justice, Respect, and Treating People as Equals

129

a n dr e w m a son

7. Social EqualityOr JustJustice?

146

christian schemmel

8. The Principles and the Presumption ofEquality

167

s t e f a n g o s e pa t h

9. On the Scope and Grounds of SocialEquality


r ek h a nath

10. Social Equality and SocialInequality


jonath a n wolff

Bibliography
Index 237

227

209

186

FOR E WOR D
Dav i d M i l l e r

For anyone who cares about the general health of their society and the direction in which it is moving, this collection of essays by distinguished philosophers on the idea of social equality is very timely. We live in paradoxical times
so far as that idea is concerned. On the one hand, in many aspects of our social
life, we take great pains to ensure that no one should be placed in an inferior
position or excluded altogether. We design our policies and our informal
practices so that those who might be seen as in some respect different from
the majority are not treated in a way that demeans them or gives them fewer
opportunities. For example, in the liberal democracies at least, we actively seek
to ensure that those who might otherwise be set apart by reasons of race, gender, or sexuality are included, by adopting practices such as affirmative action
and same-sex marriage. We abandon forms of speech that might be felt as discriminatory or disparaging. We change our ceremonies and festivals so that
cultural minorities can play a positive role within them while still retaining
their distinct identities.
On the other hand, the steady movement in the direction of greater economic equality that occupied most of the twentieth century has been sharply
reversed in recent decades. We have seen the emergence of a new moneyed
elite, with incomes and asset values that are huge multiples of the social average. This group lives in a way that is almost wholly disconnected from the rest
of society, housed in gated communities, traveling in private jets or yachts,
shopping in exclusive stores, and eating in equally exclusive restaurants. And
the spatial segregation of this group is not the only way in which social division manifests itself. When public space becomes privatised, as happens, for
example, when shopping areas in cities pass from the control of local authorities into the hands of private security companies, it allows for the exclusion of
vii

viii

F o r e w o rd

undesirable groups. So class divisions reappear, not so much in the old form of
cleavages based on birth and professional status but more directly on the basis
of money and the lifestyles it buys.
It seems that while we press ahead towards greater social equality along
some dimensions, lured on by the hope of prosperity we acquiesce in economic developments that greatly set it back in other ways. But what exactly is
social equality, and how much should we care about it? In the past, Iand other
philosophers defined it mainly by contrast to a ranked society in which each
person could be placed in a particular station and in which deference and
condescension were primary virtues. That contrast seems less relevant now,
since peoples experience of social inequality has changed. The super-rich are
regarded as people like us who have somehow hit the jackpot (in fact, a lot
of privilege is hereditary, but this is carefully concealed). Their lives, although
almost completely segregated in fact, are viewed from afar through the prism of
the tabloid press and the glossy magazines. Meanwhile the very poor are seen
as having brought their own misfortune and social exclusion on themselves,
through laziness, drug dependency, etc. So there is a superficial egalitarianism
that prevails (everyone has a chance) even though people from the different
social strata rarely interact with one another on terms of equality. Adefinition
of social equality for the present day needs to address this, by underlining that
a society of equals is not only one that lacks a formal hierarchy but also one
whose members actually share a form of life by interacting as equals on a daily
basis.
Assuming this is achievable, why should we value it? One important question addressed in these essays is whether the value of social equality can
be captured as a sum of individual valuesfor example, as promoting the
self-respect or the autonomy of each person who belongs to the societyor
whether its value is indeed collective, attaching to the social relationships that
exist between individuals rather than to the individuals themselves. There is
an obvious attraction in the first positionwhy should we care about social
equality unless those who partake of it are individually better off as a result?
but it may in fact turn out that the second contains an important part of the
truth as well. Related to this is a further question, also addressed here, about
which kinds of inequality the ideal of social equality can allow to occur. It
would clearly be implausible if it prohibited any differentiation of people
by their achievements or their moral characters. Asociety of equals neednt
eliminate athletics gold medals or the honouring of heroes. But when do such
inequalities of esteem begin to corrode an underlying equality of status?
A final question worth signalling here is about the scope of the ideal.
Originally social equality, as its name suggests, was regarded as a desirable feature of a society, meaning in practice something like a nation-state. But could

F o r e w o rd

ix

it be extended transnationally or even globally? Some recent authors have


argued for this, at least within a European context. But why should it matter
whether a German and a Romanian regard and treat one another as equals?
Asking this question again forces us to focus on the underlying value or values
that social equality represents. Through their exploration of this problem, as
well as of the practical implications that follow once we embrace social equality as a political goal, these essays help us to understand what it would really
mean to live together as equals, as we sometimes now pretend that we do.

ACK NOW L E DG M E N TS

Carina Fourie would like to thank the Swiss National Science Foundation
for their financial support, as well as colleagues at the Ethics Centre of the
University of Zurich for creating such a valuable working environment. Fabian
Schuppert is grateful for financial support from the University of Zurich's
Research Priority Program in Ethics (URPP Ethics) and Queens University
Belfast. Colleagues and friends at both institutions significantly contributed to
bringing this volume to fruition. Ivo Wallimann-Helmer would like to acknowledge the generous financial support of the Stiftung Mercator Switzerland
(http://cms.stiftung-mercator.ch) and the University of Zurichs Research
Priority Program in Ethics (URPP Ethics), without which the research for this
volume would not have been possible. He is also grateful for the inspiring work
environment at the Ethics Centre of the University of Zurich.

xi

CON TR I BU TOR S

John Baker is an emeritus professor of Equality Studies at University College


Dublin.
Carina Fourie is a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics Research Institute of the
Department of Philosophy, University of Zurich.
Marie Garrau is an associate researcher in philosophy, Laboratoire Sophiapol,
Universit Paris Ouest Nanterre.
Stefan Gosepath is a professor for practical philosophy at the Free
University Berlin and director of the Centre for Advanced Studies Justitia
Amplificata:Rethinking Justice:Applied and Global.
Ccile Laborde is a professor of political theory, School of Public Policy,
University College London.
Andrew Mason is a professor of political theory at the Department of Politics
and International Studies, and Centre for Ethics, Law and Public Affairs,
University of Warwick.
David Miller is an official fellow and professor of political theory at Nuffield
College, University of Oxford.
Rekha Nath is an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of
Alabama.
Samuel Scheffler is a university professor in the Department of Philosophy at
NewYork University.
Christian Schemmel is a lecturer in political theory at theManchester Centre
for Political Theory (MANCEPT), Department of Politics, University of
Manchester.
Fabian Schuppert is a research fellow in the Institute for Collaborative
Research in the Humanities at Queens University Belfast.
xiii

xiv

Contributors

Ivo Wallimann-Helmer is the director of the program for Advanced Studies


in Applied Ethics and a post-doctoral researcher in the University Research
Priority Program for Ethics both at the Centre for Ethics, University of Zurich.
Jonathan Wolff is the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and Professor
of Philosophy, University College London.

The Nature and Distinctiveness of


Social Equality:An Introduction
C a r i na Fou r i e , Fa bi a n Sc h u ppe rt, a n d
I vo Wa l l i m a n n-H e l m e r

Equality is not one idea, and one can advocate or criticize a number of forms of
egalitarianism. Many egalitarians advocate the equal distribution of one of a
range of equalisandain other words, what it is that should be equalized, such
as political power, human rights, primary goods, opportunities for welfare,
or capabilities. This notion that equality is best described according to some
thing that should be distributed equally has been subject to criticism by a
range of schools of thought. Of these critics, a number of prominent contemporary philosophers insist that, while the ideal of equality clearly has distributive implications and may well match certain distributive notions of equality,
equality is foremost about relationships between people. The structure of
relationships can be more or less egalitarian, more or less hierarchical. When
we appeal to the value of equality, we mean the value primarily of egalitarian
and nonhierarchical relationships, and not of distributions, which may only
be instrumentally valuable in terms of how well they reflect or help to achieve
egalitarian relationships. This form of egalitarianism is known as social or relational egalitarianism.1
For the purposes of this introduction, we take social and relational equality to be equivalent
and use mainly social equality as the umbrella term to refer to both social and relational equality. There are a number of different understandings of social and relational equality, and some
theorists may be tempted to describe these different understandings according to a distinction
drawn between social equality, on the one hand, and relational equality, on the other. We believe,
however, that there are enough similarities between what some theorists call relational equality
and some call social equality to merit referring to them as equivalent. It is an open question, and
one that social egalitarians may answer variously, as to whether there is a need to distinguish
between social and relational equality.
1

Social Equality

While a number of contemporary theorists point to the importance of social


equality, it can also be seen to have played a significant role in the understanding of equality in the history of political theory.2 Among the primary concerns
of early egalitarians such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Mary Wollstonecraft, and
Thomas Paine, for example, were the morally arbitrary differences, such as gender or aristocratic birth, on which many social hierarchies are constructed. 3
While social equality appears to be an important ideal in the history of political
theory and in practice, and it has a number of contemporary advocates, it is still
relatively neglected in comparison to theories of distributive equalitywhat
social equality might be and why it could be valuable still requires much theoretical work. This collection of original essays is an attempt to help to redress
this neglect and to develop the notion of social equality further.
Overall, this introduction serves two purposes. In the first section, we aim
to provide background on important themes in social egalitarianism and to set
the context for understanding which significant questions the essays in this
book pose and attempt to answer. In the second section, we provide a brief
explanation of the structure of the book and each of its essays.

1. An Introduction to Social Equality


Two overlapping perspectives are particularly significant for putting the social
egalitarian debate into context. The first considers social equality what can be
called internallyfor example, by asking what characterizes social equality or inequality, or what makes socially egalitarian relationships egalitarian.
The second considers it from an external perspectiveby trying to determine
what distinguishes social equality from similar concepts and commitments.

1.1 Socially Egalitarian Relationships


What, more precisely, is social equality? We can answer the question by elucidating which kinds of relationships, or structures of relationships, are compatible
For a selection of contemporary texts on social equality, please see the bibliography at the
end of this introduction.
3
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality among Men,
Reprint (NewYork:Penguin Classics, 1985 [1755]); Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man; Common
Sense; and Other Political Writings, ed. M. Philp (Oxford and New York: Oxford University
Press, 1998 [1791]); Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (NewYork and
Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1993 [1792]). See also Elizabeth Anderson, Equality, in The
Oxford Handbook of Political Philosophy, ed. David Estlund (NewYork:Oxford University Press,
2012).
2

Nature and Distinctiveness of Social Equalit y

with or exemplify equality and by determining which kinds of asymmetrical relationships, which kinds of social hierarchies, egalitarians should oppose. Examples
of social egalitarian interactions and relationships might be the use of Mr. and
Ms. to address everyone, rather than distinguishing according to rank, education, or marital status, for example, or choosing friends according to common
tastes and interests rather than according to social rank.4 Social equality can be
seen to be embodied in certain forms of communes, state communism, anarchism and syndicalism, companionate marriage, multiculturalism [...], republicanism, democracy, socialism and social democracy.5 Claims are made that social
equality is violated by, for example, slavery, class systems, hierarchies of social status based on race or gender, orders of nobility, behavior that is either, on the one
hand, noticeably flattering or deferential or approbatory or obsequious or, on the
other hand, noticeably disparaging or deprecatory or insulting or humiliating,6
and any kinds of relationships between superiors and inferiors.
What is it about these interactions and relationships that make them socially
egalitarian or inegalitarian? Apopular response is to associate social equality with
relationships that express respect (usually respect-for-persons) or recognition.7 In
this case, an important part of determining what social equality is would be to
identify the relevant notions of respect and to unpack how egalitarian relationships constitute or reflect this form of respect. Whether respect exhausts social
equality is a question that social egalitarians need to answer and that they are
likely to answer in various manners. The asymmetrical relationships that social
egalitarians oppose also include (certain kinds of) hierarchies of prestige, honor,
and esteem, as well as those of power, command and dominationwhy and under
what circumstances these should be opposed, and whether these hierarchies can
all be categorized as constituting violations of respect, requires further analysis.
The high emphasis social egalitarians place on relationships raises a number of questions about the subject and scope of social equality. The subject of
justice is often confined to major social institutions such as the constitution
and the form of the economypersonal choice, social norms, and civil society
are often seen to be excluded from the regulation of principles of justice. 8 If
social equality is about social relationships, surely even private, interpersonal
David Miller, Equality and Justice, Ratio 10, no. 3 (1997):231.
Anderson, Equality, 40.
6
W. G.Runciman, Social Equality, The Philosophical Quarterly 17, no. 68 (1967):223.
7
R unciman, Social Equality; Miller, Equality and Justice; Jonathan Wolff, Fairness,
Respect, and the Egalitarian Ethos, Philosophy & Public Affairs 27, no. 2 (1998): 97122;
Elizabeth Anderson, What Is the Point of Equality? Ethics 109, no. 2 (1999):287337; Christian
Schemmel, Why Relational Egalitarians Should Care About Distributions, Social Theory and
Practice 37, no. 3 (2011):365390.
8
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1999), Part2, 610, &
Part14, 7378; John Rawls, Justice as Fairness:ARestatement (Cambridge, MA:Belknap Press
4
5

Social Equality

relationships should be subject to norms of equality. Descriptively, it seems


clear that concerns of equality are indeed significant in at least certain kinds
of interpersonal relationships, and in friendships and partnerships we often
aim to avoid creating conditions in which one person is treated or made to feel
inferior. Conceptually, we would need to understand what makes these kinds
of relationships more or less socially equal and, normatively, we may wonder
what weight equality should have among a diversity of values governing these
kinds of relationships.
Many discussions of social equality are particularly concerned with the
implications of equality on a political and an institutional level. The claim is
that as citizens or, even merely as human beings, we should be treated as social
equals, and the state and its institutions should not express, establish, or reinforce (certain kinds of) inegalitarian and hierarchical relationships between
individuals or groups of individuals. However, even the fact that social equality could be seen as a significant moral value at the level of individual behavior
and informal social structure (e.g., where interaction is guided primarily by
norms rather than by official regulations, policies, or laws), and as a significant
political value, raises a number of important questions. Is social equality one
value that can be reflected on both a personal and an informal level, as well as
on a political and formal level? What can we learn from social equality on an
informal level that could apply formally, or vice versa?
These questions about the subject of social equality also raise challenges
about whether we may be justified to intervene in personal relationshipsif we
aim to achieve social equality, and if this form of social equality is reflected in
or determined by personal relationships, then do we not have reason to try to
establish equality in personal relationships? Of course, this may not mean that
social egalitarians, even if they agree that many personal relationships should
be egalitarian, will necessarily promote intervention all things considered, but
it does raise the question of whether the subject of social equality should indeed
include informal relations, or whether it need be limited in range in the same
way that justice often is.
This can be seen to be a case of asking which relationships should be socially
equal. This raises not only questions about the application of social equality
to a specific subjectinformal or personal versus formal or political relationshipsbut also about the scope of social equality in terms of its application
to citizenship or residency in nation states. If social equality is what is owed
fellow citizens, or if social equality is constitutive of or necessary for civic
of Harvard Univ. Press, 2001), 1012. Confining justice in this way is not without its critics:see, for example, G. A.Cohen, If Youre an Egalitarian, How Come Youre so Rich? (Cambridge,
MA:Harvard University Press, 2001), 117147.

Nature and Distinctiveness of Social Equalit y

friendship,9 then what does this imply in terms of our relationships with noncitizens and residents of other nation-states?10 Can social equality be said to
be what we owe all other human beings, or need it be confined to residence or
citizenship? Could we justify cosmopolitanism on the basis of social equality?

1.2 The Distinctiveness of Social Equality


An essential part of determining the value and potential significance of social
egalitarianism is to indicate how a theory of social equality can be distinguished
from other kinds of theories, or how social equality can be distinguished from
other significant notions in political philosophy. Social equality overlaps with
or shares certain similarities with at least the following:moral equality or equal
moral worth; equal respect and concern; recognition and the politics of difference; non-domination; and social justice and distributive equality. Different
notions of social equality will have different ways of understanding these similarities, and there is no standard account of either social equality or of these
other concepts to which we can refer to explain any distinctions. We will, however, highlight a few potential approaches to determining the distinctiveness of
social equality. This is important to addressfor social egalitarianism to have
major significance it needs to be (somewhat) distinct and cannot merely replicate other claims under a different name; at the least, it needs to provide a different perspective even if it deals with concepts and claims substantially similar
to those dealt with by many theories of justice for example.
While social egalitarians often relate social equality to equal moral worth
or to what it means to treat people with respect and concern, they do not
equate social equality with these other forms of equality. Many distributive
egalitarians (or prioritarians) follow on from what they see as a foundational
claim (or basic intuition) that people are equals and should be treated as such,
to providing distributive principles that they claim are an expression of this
fundamental notion of equality.11 Social egalitarians could claim that while
social equality may well be an expression of equal moral worth or treating
people with respect and concern, it is a substantive ideal in itself that needs to
9Anderson, What Is the Point of Equality?; Elizabeth Anderson, Justifying the
Capabilities Approach to Justice, in Measuring Justice Primary Goods and Capabilities, ed. Harry
Brighouse and Ingrid Robeyns (Cambridge and NewYork:Cambridge University Press, 2010),
81100; Andrew Mason, Living Together as Equals:The Demands of Citizenship (Oxford:Oxford
University Press, 2012).
10
R ichard Norman, The Social Basis of Equality, Ratio 10, no. 3 (1997):238252; Rekha
Nath, Equal Standing in the Global Community, Monist 94, no. 4 (2011):593614.
11
See, for example, Schefflers discussion of this tendency. Samuel Scheffler, Choice,
Circumstance, and the Value of Equality, Politics, Philosophy & Economics 4, no. 1 (2005):528.

Social Equality

be fleshed out, and this fleshing out will help to determine which distributive
principles are compatible with equality.12
Theories of social equality also overlap with many theories of recognition,
the politics of difference, and notions of non-domination.13 Like advocates of
these theories, social egalitarians criticize a distributive paradigm (we discuss
this criticism further below) and emphasize the unacceptability of hierarchical
relationships, misrecognition, and domination. One could claim that notions
of social equality, however, might distinguish themselves, first, by having a
broader scope (e.g., by combining concerns about power and domination with
concerns about respect, esteem, and recognition); second, by being directly
concerned with equality in itself and positioning itself explicitly within the
debate on the value of equality; and third, often by offering a particularly liberal egalitarian slant on recognition and domination with influence from John
Rawlss justice-as-fairness. This is not to say that a particular theory of social
equality need, however, make any of these particular claims, but this indicates
how social egalitarians could potentially distinguish themselves.
Two of the most significant questions in terms of the distinctiveness of
social equality are whether and how this form of equality can be distinguished
from justice, or, relatedly, from questions associated with distribution.14 The
rest of this section of the introduction will be dedicated to highlighting a selection of significant aspects associated with the potential distinction between
social equality and justice, or social equality and distributive equality.
David Miller has argued particularly influentially for drawing a distinction
between equality and justice, claiming that there are two valuable forms of
equality, the first, and which is indeed directly related to justice, is distributive
equalityat times, justice may require equality in distribution. Social equality, however, is not directly related to justice but rather identifies a social ideal,
the ideal of a society in which people regard and treat one another as equals,
A nderson, What Is the Point of Equality? Samuel Scheffler, What Is Egalitarianism?
Philosophy and Public Affairs 31, no. 1 (2003):539; Scheffler, Choice, Circumstance, and the
Value of Equality.
13
For examples, see: on recognition, Nancy Fraser, Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections
on the Postsocialist Condition (Routledge, 1996); on the politics of difference, Iris Marion
Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton University Press, 1990); on republicanism, non-domination, and their relationship with social equality, Philip Pettit, On the Peoples
Terms:ARepublican Philosophy of Democracy (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2012);
and Fabian Schuppert, Non-Domination, Non-Alienation and Social Equality: Towards a
Republican Understanding of Equality, Critical Review of International Social and Political
Philosophy (forthcoming, Winter 2014).
14
W hile theories of social justice are often concerned with distribution (of resources or
opportunities for welfare, for example), we cannot necessarily equate concerns of justice with
concerns about distribution.
12

Nature and Distinctiveness of Social Equalit y

in other words a society that is not marked by status divisions such that one
can place different people in hierarchically ranked categories, in different
classes for instance.15 Such a distinction indicates that justice and equality
are two separate values implying, for example, that social equality could make
moral claims besides, and even in conflict with, the claims made by a theory
of justice.16
While one might disagree with Miller about whether social equality and
justice should be seen as separate, one might still accept that Miller has
identified an important distinction between concerns of social equality and
concerns of distribution. Social egalitarians often distance themselves from
an emphasis on distribution as being the primary concern of egalitarianism.
While social equality is likely to have significant implications for distribution, many egalitarians insist that social equality cannot be captured foremost
according to a description of the distribution of goods or some other relevant
currency.17 Although social equality could be described in distributive terms
as something like equality of (the social bases of) status, social egalitarians
could still object that the distributive paradigm does not capture a number of
pertinent concerns.
First, for example, the moral concern of social equality often presupposes
the existence of a relationship; in contrast, distributions can exist even if there
are no relationships (such as between the two parts of Derek Parfits divided
world),18 but these are irrelevant from the perspective of social equality.
Second, social equality or inequality is conveyed through, among other things,
attitudes, and evaluations, and their expressions via behavior and institutions,
which seem difficult to subsume under a wholly distributive paradigmat
the least, such a paradigm would need to try to make room explicitly for these
kinds of phenomena, if indeed it is able to do so. Last, it seems doubtful that
what social equality will require can be captured by singular descriptions
of distributive patterns as it is likely to make nuanced demands in terms of
esteem, power, or social cooperation, which will not be properly characterized
by claims that these should (simply) be equalized.

M iller, Equality and Justice, 224.


Not all social egalitarians agree. Christian Schemmel, for example, insists that relational
egalitarianism should be seen as an ideal of social justicethe problem with inegalitarian
relationships is precisely that they constitute unjust treatment (Schemmel, Why Relational
Egalitarians Should Care About Distributions, 366).
17
Here, Young and Frasers criticisms of distributive models of justice can be understood
to back up the social egalitarian concern with reducing social equality to distribution:Young,
Justice and the Politics of Difference; Fraser, Justice Interruptus.
18
Derek Parfit, Equality and Priority, Ratio 10, no. 3 (1997):202221, at 206.
15
16

Social Equality

Emphasizing the discontinuity between distributive and social egalitarianism also functions to indicate how social equality can be used as a basis (1)to
criticize the way in which many distributive egalitarians move from a broad
notion of equal moral worth or equal respect and concern straight to distributive concerns without fleshing out the ideal of equality that should, arguably,
underlie these distributions, and (2)to criticize specific distributive principles
or distributions. For example, we could criticize income inequalities on the
basis that they create objectionable status differences between the rich and the
poor.19
A particular theory of social justice that is often considered to be in conflict with social equality is luck egalitarianism. This form of egalitarianism
can be described as the view that inequalities are fair if they occur due to
option luck but are unfair if they are due to brute luck. Anumber of significant advocates of social equality have criticized luck egalitarianism on the
grounds, for example, that it violates respect by treating certain citizens as
inferior and that it is disconnected from a more fundamental and valuable
form of egalitarianism. 20
A further significant aspect of the potential distinction between questions
of distribution and social egalitarianism is the relationship between distributive patterns and social equality. A primary debate within social justice is
whether we really require equality, at least as an ideal that is valuable in itself,
or whether some other distributive pattern might not be our ultimate aim,
such as, for example, providing the worst off with best possible position, or
providing individuals with enough, with a sufficient amount. This debate has
led many to question whether equality is valuable at all.21 Social egalitarians
could respond by emphasizing that this debate is too focused on only certain
forms of (distributive) equality, in isolation from the social egalitarian commitments that could underlie them. Indeed, we could distinguish at least two
ways in which social egalitarians could make claims to establishing the value
of equality.
First, although one could point to the many negative consequences of social
inequality, social equality can also be seen as constituting a form of equality
See, for example, Miller, Equality and Justice, 224225; T. M.Scanlon, The Diversity of
Objections to Inequality, in The Ideal of Equality, ed. Matthew Clayton and Andrew Williams
(Basingstoke:Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 4159, at 52.
20
Wolff, Fairness, Respect, and the Egalitarian Ethos; Anderson, What Is the Point of
Equality? Scheffler, What Is Egalitarianism?
21
Even an only partially comprehensive set of references here would be too numerous. For
early contemporary statements of the sufficientarian, egalitarian, and prioritarian positions see,
respectively, Harry Frankfurt, Equality as a Moral Ideal, Ethics 98, no. 1 (1987):2143; Larry
S.Temkin, Inequality (Oxford University Press, USA, 1993); Parfit, Equality and Priority.
19

Nature and Distinctiveness of Social Equalit y

that is noninstrumentally valuable or is desirable per se.22 Derek Parfits influential criticism of telic egalitarianisms commitment to equality as a good
in itself is directed at distributive equality.23 While many egalitarians reject
Parfits argument on various grounds, even if we accept Parfits criticism, social
equality, arguably, provides an understanding of equality that seems to justify
why we should indeed value equality itselfit seems, at least at first glance, to
make more sense to claim that we value equal social relations per se, in contrast to making similar claims about equal distributions. Second, however,
social equality could provide egalitarian grounds for equal distributions. 24
While prioritarians and sufficientarians could indeed promote equality in the
distribution of certain social goods, they would argue that the reasons why
we should prefer these distributions are actually ultimately inegalitarian. For
example, we may still prefer an equal distribution of goods if our ultimate aim
is to achieve the best possible opportunities for welfare for the worst off, and
not equality per se.
However, a number of egalitarians have pointed out that there seem to be a
range of reasons why we might prefer equal distributions of at least certain kinds
of goods, and although some of these, such as a concern for the absolute position
of the worst off, are not egalitarian, a number of them, including reasons that
correspond to social equality, are indeed egalitarian. So, for example, when we
are concerned that inequalities in social goods lead to stigmatizing differences
in status, whereby the badly off feel like, and are treated as, inferiors... [or they
create] objectionable relations of power and domination we have egalitarian
reasons, specifically, socially egalitarian reasons, to value distributive equality.25
Whether social equality does indeed demand distributive equality, however,
needs further critical assessment. Social equality has been used as the basis to
argue for particular distributive schemes, such as a demanding form of equality
of opportunity26 or a sufficient set of central capabilities to enable citizens to
function as social equals, for example.27 Different notions of social equality are
likely to engender different patterns of distribution. It may also be the case that
For example, Norman, The Social Basis of Equality; Anderson, Equality. Also consider
Fouries discussion of the value of equality:Carina Fourie, What Is Social Equality? An Analysis
of Status Equality as a Strongly Egalitarian Ideal, Res Publica 18, no. 2 (2012):107126.
23
Parfit, Equality and Priority.
24
For example, Scanlon, The Diversity of Objections to Inequality; Martin ONeill,
What Should Egalitarians Believe? Philosophy & Public Affairs 36, no. 2 (2008): 119156;
Daniel M.Hausman and Matt Sensat Waldren, Egalitarianism Reconsidered, Journal of Moral
Philosophy 8, no. 4 (2011):567586; Jonathan Wolff, Scanlon on Social and Material Inequality,
Journal of Moral Philosophy, 10, no. 4 (2013): 406425.
25
ONeill, What Should Egalitarians Believe? 126.
26
Schemmel, Why Relational Egalitarians Should Care About Distributions.
27
A nderson, Justifying the Capabilities Approach to Justice, 83.
22

10

Social Equality

even where we agree on a theory of social equality, such a theory could be compatible with more than one pattern of distribution or notion of social justice.
While there is no singular account of social or relational egalitarianism, certain overlapping concerns stand out, such as an emphasis on determining the
structure of egalitarian relationships, and not merely on determining distributive patterns of social goods. This introductory section has aimed to highlight
some of the significant questions that can be asked of this form of egalitarianism and indicated some of the potential ways in which they can be answered.
The essays in this volume will provide unique and more in-depth answers to
many of these questions.

2. The Structure of the Volume


Two primary kinds of questions can be distinguished based on the discussion in the previous section:First, what is the nature social equality? Second,
what is its relationship with theories of justice and with politics? The next
two subsections of the introduction provide a brief description of each of the
contributed essays, categorized according to these two major questions. The
essaysas they are presented here in the introduction and in the volume as a
wholehave been ordered in such a way so as to indicate many of the significant relationships between them.

2.1 The Nature of Social Equality


The essays of the first part of this volume elaborate on the multitude of overlapping but irreducible aspects of which the ideal of social equality is comprised.
They investigate the relevance of respect, esteem, love, deliberative practices,
power, and domination for conceptions of social equality. In so doing, the contributions aim to flesh out which kinds of relationships, which social hierarchies, and which social practices are compatible with social equality and which
are not. Taken together, the essays in the first part of this volume provide a
picture of the complex nature of social equality.
In his essay, Samuel Scheffler analyzes two objections against the claim that
social equality is a distinct form of equality that is not reducible to distributive
concerns. First, since social egalitarians accept that in some instances equality
supports egalitarian distributions, one can ask whether it makes a difference
to adopt a social egalitarian instead of a (merely) distributive egalitarian view.
Second, it could be objected that relational concerns, once specified in sufficient detail, would necessarily take a distributive form. By investigating how
conditions of joint decision-making in social relations among equals should

Nature and Distinctiveness of Social Equalit y

11

be envisaged, Scheffler emphasizes, however, that there is at least one aspect


distinguishing relational conceptions from distributive egalitarian views.
Scheffler establishes what he calls the egalitarian deliberative constraint.
This constraint, he argues, is a distinctively nondistributive, egalitarian element of social equality. The egalitarian deliberative constraint denotes what the
practice of equality as a social ideal should bea practice of decision-making
within which all parties involved show equal respect and concern for each
others comparable interests. Thus, according to the egalitarian deliberative
constraint, in relationships of equality, decisions would not specifically aim
to make everyone equally well-off in terms of distributive goods. Rather, the
egalitarian deliberative constraint requires all parties involved to consider
each others comparable interests as equally important.
The idea that decisions should track an agents relevant interests is also at
the very heart of the republican ideal of non-domination, which Marie Garrau
and Ccile Laborde consider critically in their essay. Garrau and Laborde analyze the role republican non-domination can play in social egalitarianism.
Non-domination demands that no one can wield arbitrary power over others. In their essay, Garrau and Laborde argue that the republican understanding of an egalitarian society is committed to and characterizes some version
of social egalitarian relationships. In this view, social relations are grounded
in mutual social interdependence and vulnerability. From a social egalitarian
perspective, to secure status equality these fragile interdependences must be
stabilized. First and foremost, this means ensuring that no one can arbitrarily
dominate someone else, whether due to inequalities in economic conditions or
due to positions of power.
However, according to Garrau and Laborde, it is not only the risk of arbitrary domination that must be a central concern of social egalitarians as individuals are also vulnerable to other social processes. For instance, members
of a society are also vulnerable to structural conditions that do not necessarily lead to domination. An individual who loses social connections because
of unemployment is vulnerable to social marginalization but not primarily to
domination by others. This observation leads Garrau and Laborde to conclude
that although the republican concept of non-domination captures some social
egalitarian concerns, it cannot be the only overarching concept explaining a
republican understanding of a society of equals.
John Baker would certainly agree with this observation since domination
as a form of power is only one among several dimensions of social equality.
According to Baker, we must distinguish at least three primary, overlapping dimensions of social equalityrespect and recognition; love, care, and
solidarity; and power. Within each of these dimensions we can analyze how
members of society should relate to each other. Against this backdrop, Baker

12

Social Equality

investigates how these three dimensions might be interpreted according to


two different social egalitarian perspectives:liberal egalitarianism and a radically egalitarian alternative. While the liberal egalitarian view is mainly concerned with limiting and justifying inequalities, the radical egalitarian view
aims at eliminating inequalities as much as possible.
For example, within the domain of respect and recognition, Baker points
out that liberal egalitarians tend to understand social inequality according to
violations of respect, while considering inequalities in esteem to be unobjectionable. Radical egalitarians by contrast would indeed be concerned about
inequalities in social status based on esteem. From a radical egalitarian perspective, an important objective would be to get to a point where esteem is
nearly equal in society.
Carina Fourie agrees that inequalities of esteem should be of concern. In
her essay, Fourie aims to determine when differences in social status based on
esteem might be more or less acceptable from a social egalitarian point of view.
She argues that social egalitarians should neither simply dismiss inequalities
of esteem as irrelevant, nor condemn them outright. The normative problem
underlying inequalities of esteem, she claims, is often really a problem of disrespect and thus not a problem of esteem per se. However, she finds that even
when they are not associated with disrespect, inequalities of esteem may still
be morally objectionable as they can make persons reasonably feel inferior or
they can interfere with civic friendship. Social egalitarians, she argues, thus
have reason to reduce or eliminate (certain) hierarchies of esteem and to
reduce the damage that they do.
Fourie identifies seven morally relevant factors that social egalitarians could
take into account when assessing hierarchies of social status based on esteem
in order to determine which of these hierarchies may be more or less problematic. Among these factors are the grounds for according esteem, the pervasiveness of hierarchies of esstem, and whether or not inequalities of esteem are
institutionally backed.
All of the contributions in this first part of the volume concern which social
structures and relationships are compatible with social equality. This is also
the topic of Fabian Schupperts essay. However, while the chapters introduced
thus far are more concerned with identifying particular features of the structure of egalitarian and inegalitarian relationships, Schuppert analyzes three
concrete kinds of social relationships, namely managerworker relationships, richpoor relationships, and gender(ed) relationships. According to
Schuppert, social egalitarians must engage in a detailed analysis of concrete
relationships not only to show under what conditions they are compatible
with social equality but also to understand better the complex and demanding
nature of social equality itself.

Nature and Distinctiveness of Social Equalit y

13

For example, since managerworker relationships are significant for most


individuals in their everyday lives, Schuppert argues that inequalities in
decision-making power should be diminished as much as possible. To do so,
what must be secured are social structures and conditions of non-domination
that allow workers to effectively voice and defend their relevant interests.
What is needed, therefore, is for hierarchical structures and large differences
in power to be democratized in the workplace. In the case of richpoor relationships, social egalitarians have to be aware of the complex interrelation
between inequalities of wealth and their effects. Inequality in wealth can lead
to relative deprivation, structural discrimination, and objectionable inequalities of esteem, all of which tend to undermine status equality.
Inequalities in wealth are often clearly also concerns of distributive equality and of social justice. Furthermore, the inequalities in respect, esteem, and
power discussed in this part of the volume, as at times indicated by the contributors here, may be caused by or in turn may contribute to injustice and
to inequalities in the distribution of social goods. Using a broad sense of distribution and what it is that can be distributed, we could arguably even claim
that these social inequalities are maldistributions of the social bases of important goods such as respect and esteem. In this sense, a theme that more or less
implicitly runs through many of the essays in this part of the volume is how
social equality relates to justice and what the distributive implications of social
egalitarianism could be. This is an explicit aspect of the second theme of the
volume.

2.2 The Relationship between Equality,


Justice, and Politics
The chapters in the second part of this volume engage in-depth with several
important questions, including:What is the relationship between the concept
of social equality and justice? What is the subject and range of social equality?
What is the scope of social equality? What is the politics of social equality?
While many of these issues were already more or less implicitly raised by the
essays in the first part of this volume, the contributions in the second part of
the volume aim to flesh out these aspects and to provide distinctly social egalitarian answers to the abovementioned questions.
The first few contributions in this second part of the volume offer different
accounts of the exact relationship between social equality and social justice,
investigating the question of whether social equality is part of the idea of justice or whether social equality actually goes beyond the realm of justice. No
matter on which side of this debate one stands, social egalitarians must devise
clear criteria and norms for assessing the status of certain relationships and

14

Social Equality

for determining whether the issues identified by social egalitarians are necessarily concerns from the viewpoint of justice. However, to determine whether
a certain state of affairs, or a certain action, (a) violates social equality and
(b)represents a case of injustice, is often a difficult task.
In his essay, Andrew Mason offers a detailed analysis of four instances in
which an agent Adoes not seem to treat another agent B as a social equal. As
Mason argues, while we might find all four instances morally problematic,
there exist good reasons to believe that As actions should not be considered
unjust. According to Mason, then, not all social inequalities are a matter of
(in)justice. For example, if a person decides out of prejudice against a particular shop owner to shop at a different store justice might not have been violated,
even if we find it morally problematic to have this prejudice and to act on it.
However, just because we do not consider an isolated instance of a certain
action a case of injustice does not mean that the same actionseen in a wider
contextcannot become a matter of injustice. As Mason observes, our deontic assessment of any given act also depends on the circumstances in which we
operate. Thus, in cases of background injustice, such as unequal opportunities
to occupy positions of social esteem, or structural practices of social discrimination, unequal treatment of others, which might otherwise be considered
merely morally dubious, can become part of an ongoing societal practice of
injustice.
Generally speaking, it seems that we can distinguish at least two different conceptualizations of social equality and its relation to justice:on the one
hand, those theories that hold that social equality is justice based, which is the
term Christian Schemmel uses, or directly justice connected, and on the other
hand, those theories that see social equality as partially distinct from justice.
In the terminology of Schemmels essay, which offers us a typology of social
egalitarianisms, this gives us two broad camps:justice-based relational egalitarianism and pluralist social egalitarians. Defenders of justice-based relational egalitarianism have a somewhat narrower conception of social equality
than pluralist social egalitarians, who hold that the idea of social equality is of
independent value above and beyond justice.
Schemmel draws out possible implications of subscribing to these different accounts of social equality and their respective ranges. Accordingly,
justice-based relational egalitarianism limits the range of social equality to
issues of justice, which means that social equality is primarily about emphasizing the sometimes neglected social-relational side of justice, whereas pluralist
social egalitarianism argues for social equality as an autonomous value that is
only partially tracked by principles of justice. Following this typology, Masons
account of social equality that claims that not all violations of social equality
are necessarily unjust presents a case of pluralist social egalitarianism. While

Nature and Distinctiveness of Social Equalit y

15

Schemmel does not aim to provide a full defense of justice-based relational


egalitarianism, he argues that this view may be able to object to inegalitarian norms of social status while avoiding the perfectionism of pluralist social
egalitarianism.
In his essay, Stefan Gosepath, investigates the grounds of social equality
within a broader attempt to track the idea of distributive equality back to the
idea of moral equality, which for him is tightly connected to social equality.
On Gosepaths reading social equality does not provide us with a distinctive
normative vision other than the idea of equal basic respect and entitlement.
In this way, social equality is for Gosepath simply part of the justification for
taking a prima facie distributive egalitarian outlook. Gosepath calls this distributive egalitarian outlook the presumption of equality. It holds that in the
absence of any overruling reasons, strict distributive equality should be our
default position. The reason for this is peoples basic social equality, which in
turn is tracked back to peoples basic moral equality. Gosepath thus offers an
alternative account of the grounds of social equality and how to cash out the
ideal of social equality in distributive terms.
In her essay, Rekha Nath also addresses the question of the grounds for
social equality in an attempt to specify the exact scope of social equality.
Nath links recent social egalitarian accounts with the wider questions of what
grounds trigger the duties and responsibilities associated with social equality
and whether the ensuing scope of social equality is limited to members of one
society, or whether social equality isat least potentiallyglobal in scope.
Nath argues that the principle of social equality is triggered once people reach
a certain level of interconnection with each other. Since these connections
can easily go beyond established borders and boundaries, the scope of social
equality is unlimited in theory. This conclusion might, of course, prove challenging for all those theorists, who seem to be treating the idea of social equality as one that speaks to the way in which members of one society should relate
to each other.
If we follow Nath in assuming that social equality is indeed (at least potentially) global in scope, social egalitarianism turns into a demanding account of
what global relations should be like. On such a reading of social equality, social
egalitarians have good reasons to join cosmopolitan theorists of global justice
in their fight against massive differences in wealth and power across countries.
This prompts the question:what would a social egalitarian politics look like?
According to Jonathan Wolffs essay, social equality might indeed be best
suited to identify and challenge instances of gross unjust inequality. In fact,
framing the debate on social equality around clearly discernible ideas of justice might be considered a case of using the wrong lens, sinceon Wolffs
readingmost social egalitarians seem to be first and foremost concerned

16

Social Equality

with a range of unacceptable social inequalities, which need to be overcome.


Wolff therefore poses the question of whether the social egalitarian project is
not so much about developing an alternative account of what egalitarianism is
and how it relates to ideals of justice but rather an exercise in applied political
theory that aims to develop an effective tool for identifying and overcoming
existing harmful social inequalities.
Wolffs argument provides us with a possible account of what a social egalitarian politics could look like, by identifying the situation of benefit cheats
as a case of manifest injustice. While many of the contributions to this volume
touch on the politics of social equality more or less implicitly, the relationship
between social egalitarian theory and its practical politics certainly remains
undertheorized. Fleshing out the politics of social egalitarianism seems a key
issue, though, since social egalitarian theory encourages us to reconsider many
so-called informal and personal relationships that are often thought to lie outside the purview of justice and state regulation. If social egalitarians are right
in claiming that many hierarchies of esteem and inegalitarian personal relationships are morally objectionable, we should also consider the question of
what we can do about it and whose responsibility it is (if anybodys) to regulate
such relationships.
In this introduction, our aims were to contextualize the contributions to
this volume within the wider debate on social equality and to highlight the key
questions that social and relational egalitarians care about. In fleshing out possible answers to these questions, this edited volume helps not only to clarify
the nature of social equality and its relation to justice and politics but also to
contribute to the further development of the egalitarian project overall.
Social Equality Bibliography
This bibliography consists of a selection of contemporary texts that explore social and relational equality, or similar notions.
Anderson, Elizabeth. What Is the Point of Equality? Ethics 109, no. 2 (1999):287337.
. Expanding the Egalitarian Toolbox:Equality and Bureaucracy. Aristotelian Society
Supplementary Volume 82, no. 1 (2008):139160.
. Justifying the Capabilities Approach to Justice. In Measuring Justice Primary Goods
and Capabilities, edited by Harry Brighouse and Ingrid Robeyns, 81100. Cambridge and
NewYork:Cambridge University Press, 2010.
. Equality. In The Oxford Handbook of Political Philosophy, edited by David Estlund.
NewYork:Oxford University Press, 2012.
Fourie, Carina. What is Social Equality? An Analysis of Status Equality as a Strongly
Egalitarian Ideal. Res Publica 18, no. 2 (2012):107126.
Hausman, Daniel M., and Matt Sensat Waldren. Egalitarianism Reconsidered. Journal of
Moral Philosophy 8, no. 4 (2011):567586.
Mason, Andrew. Living Together as Equals: The Demands of Citizenship. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2012.
Miller, David. Equality and Justice. Ratio 10, no. 3 (1997):222237.

Nature and Distinctiveness of Social Equalit y

17

Nath, Rekha. Equal Standing in the Global Community. The Monist 94, no. 4 (2011):
593614.
Norman, Richard. The Social Basis of Equality. Ratio 10, no. 3 (1997):238252.
ONeill, Martin. What Should Egalitarians Believe? Philosophy & Public Affairs 36, no. 2
(2008):119156.
Runciman, W.G. Social Equality. The Philosophical Quarterly 17, no. 68 (1967):221230.
Satz, Debra. Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets.
NewYork:Oxford University Press, 2010.
Scanlon, Thomas. The Diversity of Objections to Inequality. In The Ideal of Equality, edited
by Matthew Clayton and Andrew Williams, 4159. London:Macmillan, 2000.
Scheffler, Samuel. What is Egalitarianism? Philosophy & Public Affairs 31, no. 1 (2003):539.
. Choice, Circumstance, and the Value of Equality. In Equality and Tradition:Questions
of Value in Moral and Political Theory, 208235. Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2010.
Originally published in Politics, Philosophy & Economics 4, no. 1 (2005):528.
Schemmel, Christian. Why Relational Egalitarians Should Care About Distributions. Social
Theory and Practice 37, no. 3 (2011):365390.
. Distributive and Relational Equality. Politics, Philosophy & Economics 11, no. 2
(2012):123148.
Schuppert, Fabian. Suffering from Social Inequality. Normative Implications of Recent
Empirical Findings on the Negative Effects of Social Inequality. Philosophical Topics 40,
no. 1 (2013):97115.
. Non-Domination, Non-Alienation and Social Equality: Towards a Republican
Understanding of Equality. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philos
ophy(Forthcoming, Winter 2014).
Wolff, Jonathan. Fairness, Respect, and the Egalitarian Ethos. Philosophy & Public Affairs 27,
no. 2 (1998):97122.
. Scanlon on Social and Material Inequality. Journal of Moral Philosophy 10, no. 4
(2013):406425.

PA R T I

THE NATURE OF SOCIAL


EQUALITY

The Practice of Equality


S a m u e l Sc h e f f l e r

1.1 Two Views of Equality


I will begin with a brief and stylized contrast between two different views of
equality, which I will call the distributive and relational views respectively.
These views do not exhaust the possible interpretations of equality, but versions of both have played a prominent role in recent discussions. According
to the first view, equality is an essentially distributive value. We can directly
assess distributions as being more or less egalitarian, and justice requires that
we strive to achieve fully egalitarian distributions, except insofar as other
values forbid it. This is the view taken by Jerry Cohen when he says, I take
for granted that there is something that justice requires people to have equal
amounts of, not no matter what, but to whatever extent is allowed by values
that compete with distributive equality.1 If one accepts this view, then the
most important task is to identify the proper currency of egalitarian justice. That is, the task is to identify the thing that justice requires us to equalize
(insofar as such equalization is allowed by competing values).
According to the second, relational view, equality is an ideal governing certain kinds of interpersonal relationships. It plays a central role in political philosophy because justice requires the establishment of a society of equals, a society
whose members relate to one another on a footing of equality. For those who
accept this view, one important task is to consider what kinds of institutions and
practices a society must put in place if it is to count as a society of equals. The
relevant institutions and practices will include those that govern the distribution
of goods within the society, and so the ideal of equality, understood as an ideal
that governs the relations among the members of society, will have important
distributive implications. But, according to this view, equality is a more general,
1

G.A. Cohen, On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice, Ethics 99, no. 4 (1989):906944, at 906.
21

22

The Natur e of Social Equality

relational ideal, and its bearing on questions of distribution is indirect. The relevant question, in thinking about equality and distribution, is not What is the
currency of which justice requires an equal distribution? It is, rather, What
kinds of distributions are consistent with the ideal of a society of equals?
Defenders of the relational view have sometimes criticized the distributive view for offering an inadequate account of the basis for our concern with
equality. The distributive view, it is said, represents equality as an excessively
abstract or arithmetic value. It makes it seem as if the fundamental egalitarian concern is to secure conformity to a certain pattern of distribution for its
own sake. It fails to recognize that the real motivation for egalitarianism, both
historically and conceptually, lies in a commitment to a certain ideal of society, a conviction that the members of society should relate to one another on a
footing of equality. Distributive equality matters, they claim, only because and
insofar as it is necessary in order to achieve a society of equals.
Yet the force of the relational view is open to doubt for at least two reasons.2
First, since defenders of this view agree that it, too, supports egalitarian distributions of some kind, it may be obscure what substantive, normative difference it makes whether one accepts the relational view. If the point is simply
that egalitarian distributive principles should be grounded in the ideal of a
society of equals, rather than presented as self-standing or grounded in some
other way, then it looks as if the relational view has no bearing on the choice of
the principles themselves. It is simply addressing a different question. So, there
need be no conflict between the distributive and relational views.
Second, it may seem that the relational view, if fully spelled out, must itself
take a distributive form. For suppose that the members of society are committed to the ideal of a society of equals and are determined to structure their
mutual relations in accordance with that ideal. How would they go about
doing this? The answer, it may seem, is that they would take care to ensure
that certain important goods, such as status, power, or opportunity, were distributed equally within the society. That is what it would mean for them to
achieve a society of equals. But if that is correct, then the relational view is not
really an alternative to the distributive view but is rather a version of it. It is
distinguished from other versions not by placing less emphasis on distribution
but by singling out goods like status and power as the ones whose distribution
should be the object of egalitarian concern.
2

For versions of these objections, see Christian Seidel, Two Problems with the
Socio-Relational Critique of Distributive Egalitarianism, in Was drfen wir glauben?
Was sollen wir tun? Sektionsbeitrge des Achten Internationalen Kongresses der Gesellschaft
fr Analytische Philosophie, ed. Miguel Hoeltje, Thomas Spitzley, and Wolfgang Spohn
(Duisburg-Essen:DuEPublico, 2013), 525535.

T h e P ra c t i c e o f E q u a l i t y

23

I believe that these two doubts can be allayed. Contrary to what the second
doubt suggests, the relational view is not a version of but is rather a genuine
alternative to the distributive view. And contrary to what the first doubt suggests, the relational view does have a bearing on substantive, normative questions. If we accept the relational view, this will affect the way we think about
the content of distributive justice. In order to establish these claims, more
must be done to develop the relational view. That is what Iwill attempt to do
here. Before Ibegin, two preliminary issues need to be addressed.
First, consider the distinction between prioritarianism, which holds that
benefits to those who are worse off matter more than benefits to those who are
better off, and forms of egalitarianism that hold that it is bad if some people are
worse off than others through no fault of their own. It is sometimes said that
prioritarianism is a nonrelational view, because it is sensitive only to the absolute levels of well-being of the affected individuals, whereas egalitarianism is
a relational view, because it is sensitive to essentially comparative judgments
about the relations among different individuals levels of well-being. 3 Here the
term relational is being used to mark a difference between two different distributive views. Both prioritarianism and egalitarianism of the sort described
are distributive views, and the term relational is being used to distinguish
distributive views that are sensitive to comparative information from those
that are not. By contrast, Iuse the term to describe a view of equality that is
not distributive at all. What Icall the relational view is not the view that distributive principles should be sensitive to comparative information. It is a view
according to which equality should not be thought of as a fundamentally distributive value in the first place.
Second, although my sympathies lie for the most part with the relational
view, this does not mean that Iregard questions of distribution as unimportant or that Ithink economic inequality is unobjectionable. Ibelieve that the
levels of economic inequality that prevail in my country and many others are
indefensible, and Iam as convinced as anyone of the importance of distributive justice. The relational view does not deny that equality has a bearing on
questions of distribution. Instead it holds that, in order to appreciate the bearing of equality on distribution, one must begin by understanding equality as a
broader ideal that governs the relations among members of society more generally. Rather than assuming that justice requires the equal distribution of something and then asking what that something is, a relational approach asks what
the broader ideal of equality implies about distributive questions. Defenders
For an example of such usage, see Michael Otsuka and Alex Voorhoeve, Why It Matters
That Some Are Worse Off Than Others:An Argument Against the Priority View, Philosophy &
Public Affairs 37, no. 2 (2009):171199.
3

24

The Natur e of Social Equality

of the relational view believe that the case against distributive inequality is
strengthened rather than weakened if it is linked to a broader ideal of this kind,
because the ideal is more attractive than any purportedly egalitarian distributive formula considered on its own. If egalitarian social and political positions
have roots in the idea of a society of equals, this gives them a critical force
that they would otherwise lack. Or so defenders of the relational view believe.
Whether they are right depends on whether the relational view can be successfully fleshed out. That is what Iwill try to do in this essay.

1.2 Egalitarian Personal Relationships


I will first consider a nonpolitical example. Ido so advisedly. Equality is a central political value, and its implications in political contexts will differ in many
respects from its implications in other contexts. Yet equality is not an emergent
value that appears for the first time at the political level, and we should be able
to see some connection between the way it functions in political contexts and
the way it functions elsewhere. It would be an objection to an account of political equality if it allowed us to see no such connection. One of the advantages
of the relational conception is that it represents equality as a value that applies
to human relationships of many kinds, and we may learn things by looking
at its nonpolitical applications that will help us to understand how it applies
to the political case. So consider the assertion that a marriage or partnership
should be a relationship between equals. What might this mean? Suppose we
have two spouses or partners, each of whom is committed to conducting their
shared relationship on an egalitarian basis. How might this affect the way they
relate to each other? Presumably it will affect the attitudes they have toward
one another and the ways in which they are disposed to treat one another,
but what exactly will these effects be? Anatural first thought is that the participants in an egalitarian relationship will have a reciprocal commitment to
treating one another with respect. Each sees the other as a full-fledged agent
who has the capacities associated with this agential status. Each expects the
other to bear whatever responsibilities are assigned to a person in virtue of this
status and, similarly, each sees the other as entitled to make whatever claims
accrue to a person in virtue of this status. Moreover, neither participant is seen
by either of them as possessing more authority than the other within the context of the relationship, and each sees the other as entitled to participate fully
and equally in determining the future course and character of the relationship.
If these initial speculations are on even roughly the right track, then one
thing that is already clear is that the ideal of an egalitarian relationship draws
on values other than equality itself. It draws on values such as reciprocity and

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25

mutual respect, and on a conception of the rights and responsibilities of agents.


This might lead one to wonder whether the term egalitarian relationship is
a misnomer.4 Fully spelled out, perhaps the idea of such a relationship appeals
entirely to values other than equality. This suggestion seems to me overstated.
What is true is that the ideal of an egalitarian relationship is a complex one, and
that several of its elements draw on values other than equality per se. This is
an important point, and Iwill return to it later. At the same time, the ideal also
includes some distinctively egalitarian elements, and in what follows Iwant to
discuss one that seems to me especially important.
In a relationship that is conducted on a footing of equality, each person
accepts that the other persons equally important interestsunderstood
broadly to include the persons needs, values, and preferencesshould play
an equally significant role in influencing decisions made within the context
of the relationship. Moreover, each person has a normally effective disposition to treat the others interests accordingly. If you and Ihave an egalitarian
relationship, then Ihave a standing disposition to treat your strong interests
as playing just as significant a role as mine in constraining our decisions and
influencing what we will do. And you have a reciprocal disposition with regard
to my interests. In addition, both of us normally act on these dispositions. This
means that each of our equally important interests constrains our joint decisions to the same extent. We can call this the egalitarian deliberative constraint.
It is a distinctively egalitarian element in the complex ideal of an egalitarian
relationship.
Arriving at decisions that satisfy this constraint is not, in general, an easy
matter. Simply identifying the relevant interests that bear on a decision can be
difficult. And, of course, the interests of the participants may clash, and then
there will be a question about how to forge a joint decision in the face of conflict. Different solutions may suggest themselves on different occasions. One
strategy that will sometimes be available is a strategy of splitting the difference.
You want badly to go to Paris for three weeks. Iwant just as badly to go for one
week. We split the difference and decide to go for two weeks. Another strategy
that will sometimes be available is a strategy of choosing the second-best. My
first choice is to go to Paris and my second choice is to go to Rome. Under no
circumstances do Iwant to go to London. Your first choice is to go to London
and your second choice is to go to Rome. Under no circumstances do you want
to go to Paris. So we decide to go to Rome. Athird strategy is taking turns.
Iwant to go to Paris; you want to go to Rome. We decide to go to Paris this year
and to Rome next year. Afourth strategy is joint satisfaction. Iwant to go to
I am indebted to an unpublished paper by Fabian Schuppert in which he presses this
question.
4

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The Natur e of Social Equality

Paris; you want to go to Rome. So we decide to spend half our time in Paris and
half our time in Rome. Afifth strategy is one of trading off. Suppose we face two
decisions that we regard as being of roughly comparable importance:where to
go on our holiday, and whether to subscribe to the ballet or to the opera. Iwant
to go to Paris; you want to go to Rome. You want to subscribe to the opera;
Iwant to subscribe to the ballet. So we decide to go to Rome and subscribe to
the ballet. Asixth strategy is separation. Iwant to go to Paris; you want to go to
Rome. So we decide that we will not take a joint holiday. Instead, Iwill go to
Paris, while you will go to Rome. 5
Even in simple cases such as these, arriving at a decision may be a significant
deliberative task, because multiple solutions to the deliberative problem may
be available, and you and I may have different meta-preferences among the
strategies embodied in those solutions. In more complex cases that implicate
more important interests, satisfactory solutions of any kind may be difficult to
find, and so the deliberative task may be more challenging. Moreover, different
decisions may interact with one another in a variety of ways that add further
deliberative complexity.
Six additional complications should be noted. First, it should be clear even
from the simplified example just given that the egalitarian deliberative constraint is best understood diachronically rather than synchronically. The point
is not that each decision taken individually must give equal weight to the comparably important interests of each party. Sometimes this will be impossible
or undesirable. The point is rather that each persons interests should play an
equally significant role in determining the decisions they make over the course
of the relationship.
Second, Ihave said that the relevant notion of interests is a broad one that
includes needs, values, and preferences. We need not suppose that there are
sharp dividing lines among these categories. But the inclusion of needs and
values along with preferences and other interests reminds us that sometimes
arriving at a joint decision in the face of conflict may be difficult or even impossible. If you and Ihave diametrically opposed values, then in decisions that
implicate the opposing values none of the strategies just mentioned may be
available. If Iam a pacifist and you are a warrior, there may be no possibility
of splitting the difference between us. Diachronic solutions like taking turns
may also be unacceptable if our values are sufficiently opposed. Deciding to
5
These examples assume that the participants in the relationship are economically well-off,
inasmuch as they have the resources necessary for expensive holidays and for opera or ballet subscriptions. However, Itake this to be an inessential feature of the examples. People with fewer
resources could just as easily face situations in which the strategies illustrated by these examples
would be available to them.

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27

honor my values today and yours tomorrow will not work if honoring your values amounts to a violation of my values whenever it is done. If Iam an animal
rights activist and you are a hunter, then deciding that we will demonstrate
against animal experimentation today and go hunting tomorrow will not work.
Even separation may not always seem tenable. Ajoint decision that Iwill go to
the animal rights demonstration while you will go hunting may still seem to
me an intolerable compromise of my values. This gives people who want their
relationships to be conducted on a footing of equality a (defeasible) reason to
seek out others who share their most important values, at least for their most
comprehensive personal relationships.
There may sometimes be another alternative. Ihave said that the egalitarian
deliberative constraint applies to decisions made within the context of an egalitarian relationship. However, it is not obvious when a decision counts as being
made within the context of the relationship. If Idecide to demonstrate against
animal experimentation while you decide to go hunting, is it the case that our
respective decisions are made within the context of our relationship? That may
depend on the character of the relationship. In principle, one way of preserving
an egalitarian relationship in the face of conflicting values may be to externalize
the conflict by relegating the parties pursuit of their discordant values to a space
that is defined as being outside the relationship. This is similar to the strategy of
separation that may be used to satisfy the deliberative constraint, but it differs in
that here each of the parties can disclaim even the limited endorsement of the
others values that is involved in a joint decision to separate. It is an interesting
question under what conditions externalization of this kind can be successful. At
times it may seem artificial or self-deceptive. And when conflicts of fundamental
values are at stake, it may be unsustainable.
Third, however we assess the prospects for externalizing conflict in the manner just described, it is important to emphasize that decisions made within
the context of an egalitarian relationship need not always be arrived at jointly.
Sometimes one of the parties to a relationship will be charged with the sole
responsibility for making such a decision. This can happen, for example, if the
other party is unavailable for joint deliberation, or if the parties have themselves
decided on a division of deliberative labor, in which, say, decisions of some kinds
are made by one of them while decisions of other kinds are made by the other of
them. But these exceptions arise against the background of a presumption that
each party is equally entitled to participate in decisions made within the context of the relationship. This participatory requirement follows from the more
general point, noted earlier, that the parties to an egalitarian relationship view
each other as equally entitled to determine the future course and character of the
relationship. The participatory requirement can be modified in cases like those
mentioned but only in ways that are acceptable to the parties themselves.

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The Natur e of Social Equality

Fourth, my example of choosing a holiday destination may create the misleading impression that the egalitarian deliberative constraint requires the
parties always to make decisions that will satisfy their interests (weighted for
importance) to an equal degree, as all the possible decisions mentioned in the
example do. But in this respect the example is unrepresentative. What the
deliberative constraint requires is that the comparably important interests of
each party should play a comparably significant role in influencing decisions
made within the context of their relationship. This does not mean that, in general, their decisions must leave the parties equally well-off either in respect of
those interests or overall. To suppose otherwise is to overlook the heterogeneity of peoples interests and the variety of ways in which their interests may
constrain the deliberative process.
How should the deliberations of the parties be influenced by the interests of each in order to comply with the egalitarian deliberative constraint?
The first requirement concerns the way in which the parties interests shape
their deliberative priorities. The comparably important interests of each of
them should be assigned comparable priority when setting their joint deliberative agenda, that is, when selecting the issues that will receive their joint
deliberative attention. In addition, the parties should display comparable
tenacity and imagination in seeking to address the comparably important
interests of each of them. 6 In these ways, they make manifest their view of
one another as equals and the equal seriousness with which they treat one
anothers interests.
Beyond this, there is the question of how the content of the parties decisions should be influenced by their respective interests. There is no single
answer to this question. When the interests in question are values, then satisfying those interests will mean different things in different contexts. This
is true even for a single individual who is not subject to the egalitarian constraint. Sometimes satisfying a value may simply mean not acting in ways
that are inconsistent with it. In other contexts, it may mean acting in specific
ways that are demanded or required by the value. And in still other contexts,
it may mean acting in ways that are expressive or constitutive of the value. It
follows that in joint deliberations where the parties values are at stake, what
the egalitarian deliberative constraint requires cannot without distortion be
described as achieving an equal level of interest-satisfaction. Instead, what the
6
Stated more carefully, the point is that the parties should, when necessary, display comparable tenacity and imagination in both cases. If one partys interest proves easier to address then
the others, they are not required to expend superfluous effort in the easier case so as to equalize
the levels of effort devoted to the interests of each. Iwill take this qualification for granted in
what follows.

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29

constraint requires is that the parties decisions should be equally sensitive to


the diverse implications of their actions for the values of each of them.
Similarly, an interest that takes the form of a need or preference rather than
a value may serve only to rule certain options out rather than to fully determine the content of a decision. With interests of this kind, the equal satisfaction model is again out of place. And the model fails even in cases where the
parties are explicitly attempting to fulfill a need or preference of one of them.
Consider a case in which they previously took action to address some need or
preference of the first party. Now the other party has a comparably urgent need
or preference. Here what the egalitarian constraint requires is that they should
make just as great an effort to satisfy the second partys need or preference as
they did with that of the first party. It does not say their aim should be to ensure
that the second partys preference is satisfied to just the same extent that the
first partys was. For example, it does not require that if their conscientious
decisions about medical treatment led to a 70% reduction in the first partys
chronic pain, then their aim should now be to produce a 70% reduction in the
second partys pain. If, by making comparably conscientious efforts to secure
good treatment, they could achieve the complete elimination of the second
partys pain, the egalitarian constraint hardly forbids this.
The upshot is that the egalitarian deliberative constraint does not, in general, require the parties to make decisions that will leave them equally well-off
either in respect of their immediately affected interests or overall. The fact that
all the decisions mentioned in the holiday-destination example do leave the
parties equally well-off results from special features of that example. In particular, it is an example in which (a)the parties are seeking to make a single,
circumscribed decision about a joint activity, (b)the only interests bearing on
the decision are the parties symmetrical but conflicting preferences about one
aspect of that activity, (c)there is an obvious metric for determining the extent
to which the preferences of each party have been satisfied, and (d)there are
multiple options available that will leave the parties equally well-off in respect
of their conflicting preferences. Given these simplified decision parameters, it
is natural to suppose that the parties will choose one of the equalizing options.
Even in this case, however, they might choose otherwise without violating
the egalitarian deliberative constraint. They might, for example, flip a coin to
decide on their holiday destination. The egalitarian deliberative constraint
does not require them to make a decision that will leave them equally well-off.
Rather, it requires them to attend with equal urgency and determination to the
comparable interests of each of them. Given that they are deciding on a joint
activity about which they have comparable but conflicting preferences, that
there is a well-defined metric available for assessing how well candidate decisions satisfy those preferences, that there are options available that will satisfy

30

The Natur e of Social Equality

their preferences to an equal degree, and that there are no other interests that
need to be taken into account, it is natural, though not strictly necessary, that
they should make a decision that will produce equal preference-satisfaction.
But in many cases one or more of these conditions will fail to obtain. In such
cases, there is no general reason to expect that the egalitarian constraint
will require decisions that leave the parties equally well-off with respect to
preference-satisfaction or anything else.
The fifth complication is this. The egalitarian deliberative constraint tells
the parties something about how they should treat the comparably important
interests of each of them. But how are these judgments of importance to be
understood? Is the point that the parties should be guided by their own beliefs
about the importance of their interests, or is there some independent standard
of importance that applies? In practice, the parties have no choice but to rely
on their own judgments of importance (even if they consult others in forming
those judgments). Moreover, the very fact that one believes an interest to be
important can sometimes make it important. But what the deliberative constraint says is that the parties should treat (what are in fact) the equally important interests of each of them as having equal significance for their decisions.
This standard of importance is independent of and can diverge from their own
judgments of importance, even if they have no choice but to rely on those judgments. This means they can be mistaken in thinking they have complied with
the constraint.
Finally, the deliberative constraint is central to egalitarian relationships,
but if it is kept too clearly in view or interpreted too rigidly it can encourage
a kind of scorekeeping that may erode the quality of the relationship. If the
participants in a relationship are constantly preoccupied with making sure
that the comparably important interests of each of them are playing comparably significant roles in determining their joint decisions, that may exclude
forms of intimacy and joint identification that give personal relationships
much of their value. So the trick is to ensure that the egalitarian deliberative constraint is satisfied without itself becoming the focus of excessive
attention.
It should be clear from the six complications I have discussed that conducting and sustaining a personal relationship on a footing of equality is a
significant practical task. Indeed, relating to others as equals is best thought
of as a complex interpersonal practice. It is a practice that makes substantial
demands on the attitudes, motives, dispositions, and deliberative capacities
of the participants. There is no general formula or algorithm for determining how best to engage in the practice. Instead, sustaining an egalitarian relationship requires creativity, the exercise of judgment, and ongoing mutual
commitment, and even the sincere efforts of the parties are no guarantee of

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31

success, although success is a matter of degree and should not be conceived of


in all-or-nothing terms.

1.3 The Role of Distribution in Egalitarian


Personal Relationships
What role do issues of distribution play in our understanding of egalitarian
relationships? Such issues might be thought of as arising in two different ways.
First, they might be thought of as internal questions that arise within the
context of an egalitarian personal relationship. As such, they present practical challenges that must be addressed by the participants in the relationship.
Given a relationship that qualifies as egalitarian by some independent standard, how are questions about the distribution of various goods to be handled
within the context of that relationship? Alternatively, questions of distribution
might be thought of externally, as questions about the best way to characterize
egalitarian relationships in the first place. It might be supposed that in order to
understand what an egalitarian relationship is, we need to ask what it is that is
distributed equally between the participants in such a relationship. This alternative is in keeping with the second of the two doubts about that the relational
conception that Iwant to investigate. It assumes that the relational conception, fully spelled out, must itself take a distributive form.
Let me begin by saying something about the external question. Ihave characterized egalitarian relationships in practical and deliberative rather than distributive terms. Equality, as Ihave described it, is ultimately a form of practice
rather than a normative pattern of distribution. An egalitarian relationship is
one in which the parties have certain attitudes, motives, and dispositions with
respect to one another. Among other things, they satisfy a fundamental deliberative constraint when making decisions that fall within the scope of their
relationship. And the point is not that these attitudes, motives, and dispositions must be distributed equally between the parties. Admittedly, the relationship will not have an egalitarian character if one of the parties exhibits the
relevant attitudes and dispositions and the other does not. The attitudes and
dispositions must hold reciprocally. But neither will the relationship have an
egalitarian character if the parties possess those attitudes and dispositions to
an equal but low degree. If anything, the egalitarian aim is not to equalize the
relevant attitudes and dispositions but to maximize them:to ensure that both
parties exhibit them to the fullest.
It might be suggested that the description Ihave given is equivalent to saying
that egalitarian relationships are characterized by an equal distribution of status between the participants. However, this formulation does little to suggest

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The Natur e of Social Equality

the deliberative and practical dimensions of equality as Ihave described it and,


as Ihave just argued, an emphasis on equal distribution seems misplaced where
those dimensions are concerned. Of course, one might stipulatively define an
equal distribution of status as one that obtains when a relationship satisfies
the deliberative and attitudinal criteria Ihave outlined, but such a definition
would be artificial. The bare possibility of constructing a stipulative definition
does not show that there is any natural or interesting sense in which egalitarian
relationships are best understood in distributive terms.
This leads me to think that questions of the second, external kind are
misplaced. The way to understand what a relationship of equals is like is
not to ask what is distributed equally in such a relationship. The distinctive
feature of egalitarian relationships is not that there is an equal distribution
of something. It follows that, at least as applied to personal relationships,
the second doubt about the relational conception of equality is unfounded.
It is not the case that the relational conception, fully spelled out, must itself
take a distributive form.
Internal questions, however, are not misplaced. Insofar as decisions about
how to use available resources arise within the context of an egalitarian relationship, the egalitarian deliberative constraint will apply to those decisions.
Again, there are questions about when a resource allocation decision falls
within the scope of such a relationship. In some cases, it will be clear that the
resources in question belong jointly to the participants in the relationship and
that decisions about how to allocate them fall within its scope. In many ordinary friendships, by contrast, it may seem clear that the participants have few
if any material resources in common, and that the decisions that each of them
makes about how to allocate his or her resources fall outside the scope of the
relationship. Ido not in general expect to have a say in how my wealthy friend
decides to spend his money. But whether a resource allocation decision falls
within the scope of a relationship cannot always be settled solely by reference
to the prevailing legal regime of property and ownership. For one thing, we
may sometimes feel that an individual participant has taken advantage of the
prevailing regime to shelter resources, or exclude them from joint decision, in
a way that is incongruous with the egalitarian character of the relationship. In
addition, there may be cases in which we are in no doubt that certain resources
are the legal property of one of the participants, but we nevertheless believe
that his decisions about how to allocate his resources are incompatible with a
relationship of equals. If my wealthy friend regularly insists on going to more
expensive restaurants than Ican afford and on paying the bill for both of us,
then Imay feel that his allocative decisions, although legally unimpeachable,
are undermining the egalitarian character of our relationship. This suggests
that certain allocative decisions may fall within the scope of a relationship, in

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33

the sense that matters for our purposes, even if the resources whose allocation
is under consideration belong exclusively to one of the participants.
Let us leave these complications aside, however, and focus on cases in which
the participants in a relationship of equals are considering how to allocate
resources that they jointly control. These decisions are subject to the egalitarian deliberative constraint. Each participant accepts that the others comparably important interests should play a comparably significant role in influencing
the allocation decisions that they make. This is a substantial constraint, even if
we assume that it applies diachronically rather than synchronically. In the context of a face-to-face personal relationship, however, it seems unlikely that the
participants will attempt to satisfy the constraint through the self-conscious
application of a fixed distributive formula, such as a leximin principle or a principle of equality of welfare or resources. It would seem more than a bit peculiar
if they did do this. There are several reasons why this is so. First, to rely on such
a formula would seem rigid and moralistic, and would raise concerns of the
kind noted earlier about excessive scorekeeping. Second, many of the allocation decisions the participants are likely to face will be decisions about how
best to advance or protect their shared interests, whereas distributive formulae
of the kind mentioned are used to adjudicate among conflicting interests.
Finally, the participants are, by hypothesis, concerned to sustain their relationship as a relationship of equals, and they are therefore concerned with the
ways in which their respective interests influence their joint decisions. This
means, to put it crudely, that they are concerned with the ways in which their
respective interests are treated as inputs of deliberation and decision. But distributive formulae of the kind mentioned operate, in effect, on the outputs of
decision. Such a formula does not directly assess the role played in deliberation by considerations about the respective interests of the parties. It looks
instead at the situation of the participants once a given decision is carried out
and assesses their comparative standing in respect of some dimension, such
as welfare or resources, which is thought to reflect their interests. Such assessments may provide indirect evidence of the way in which considerations about
the participants interests influenced the decision-making process. But the
participants, with their normally extensive mutual knowledge and their direct
access to their own deliberations, are unlikely to regard these output measures
as being, in general, good proxies for the kinds of assessment of their deliberations that matter to them. Why should they look at their overall situation once
a decision is carried out and make an inference on that basis about how they
must have deliberated? As a way of assessing their deliberations, this would be
not only indirect but also of limited reliability, since for two people to deliberate in accordance with the egalitarian constraint it is neither necessary nor
sufficient that their overall situation once the decision is carried out should

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The Natur e of Social Equality

end up satisfying any fixed distributive formula. There is, in general, no need
for the participants to rely on such indirect and unreliable inferences. They can
ask themselves directly whether the comparably important interests of each
of them played an equally significant role in influencing their decisions. Of
course, they can be mistaken about this, and output measures may serve as
correctives to self-deception and other forms of error. Distributive inequalities may be symptoms that the participants internal deliberations violated the
egalitarian constraint even though they thought otherwise. But there is a difference between using output measures to guard against self-deception and
using them systematically to satisfy the egalitarian deliberative constraint.
So, to repeat, the participants in a relationship of equals are unlikely, when
facing decisions about the allocation of their resources, to try to satisfy the
egalitarian deliberative constraint by applying a fixed distributive formula.
On the other hand, the deliberative constraint will itself exert pressure in
the direction of egalitarian distribution. If, in deciding how to allocate their
resources, the participants treat the comparably important interests of each of
them as having comparable significance, then a natural default assumption is
that they will end up devoting roughly equal resources to satisfying the comparably important interests of each. And insofar as it makes sense to compare
the extent to which their interests are satisfied, a natural default assumption
is that their decisions will tend to produce roughly equal levels of (weighted)
interest satisfaction. The fact that the egalitarian deliberative constraint exerts
general pressure toward egalitarian distributions explains why distributive
inequalities can serve the corrective function just noted. But the conclusion
that the participants decisions will have distributively egalitarian upshots is a
defeasible one, and the reason it holds is not because they apply any particular
distributive formula in making their choices. It holds because they regard the
reasons generated by the comparable interests of each of them as themselves
being of comparable strength. That is the regulative principle governing their
deliberations.
It may seem that the participants in egalitarian relationships would have a
greater concern than Ihave acknowledged with distributive equality per se.
They would regard it as intrinsically important that equal resources be allocated to meeting their respective interests, or that those interests be satisfied
to an equal degree. But Ido not believe that a concern for the egalitarian character of their relationship would lead them to be troubled by the bare fact of
inequality in one of these dimensions. Their primary concern, insofar as they
wish to conduct their relationship on an egalitarian basis, is with their attitudes toward one another and with how seriously each takes the interests of
the other in contexts of deliberation and decision. If they were in other respects
satisfied with the egalitarian character of the relationship, then Idoubt that the

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35

bare fact of distributive inequality would, by itself, arouse their distinctively


relational concern.7 By contrast, if one of the participants regularly flouted the
egalitarian deliberative constraint but strict distributive equality were somehow achieved anyway (perhaps by luck or perhaps because it was imposed by
an outsider), then the egalitarian character of the relationship would be compromised despite the fact that distributive equality had been achieved.
Let me pause to take stock. Ibegan by identifying two doubts about the
relational conception of equality. The first turned on the thought that it makes
no normative difference whether or not one accepts the relational view, since in
either case egalitarian distributive principles will be needed and the relational
view has no bearing on the choice of such principles. The second turned on the
thought that the relational view, fully spelled out, must itself take a distributive
form. As applied to egalitarian personal relationships, we have seen that the
second doubt is unfounded. It is not true that the relational view must take a
distributive form. And the considerations we have just been rehearsing suggest
that, as applied to personal relationships, the first doubt is also unfounded. On
the relational view, there is strong general pressure within egalitarian personal
relationships toward rough distributive equality of some kind, but there is no
reason to think that such relationships are regulated by any fixed distributive
formula. So, a fortiori, there is no reason to think they are regulated by the same
formula that a purely distributive conception of equality might recommend.

1.4 ASociety of Equals


Let me now turn back to the case of a society of equals. What light, if any,
can our discussion of personal relationships shed on the contrast between the
relational and distributive interpretations of social and political equality? Are
the two doubts about the relational conception any better founded in this case
than they are in the case of personal relationships? To begin, I believe that
a version of the deliberative constraint that plays a central role in egalitarian
personal relationships is also central to the idea of a society of equals. In such
a society, each member accepts that every other members equally important
interests should play an equally significant role in influencing decisions made
on behalf of the society as a whole. Moreover, each member has a normally
effective disposition to treat the interests of others accordingly. So a society
of equals is characterized by a reciprocal commitment on the part of each
Of course, that concern would be aroused if the distributive inequality were so great as to
undermine their relationship as equals. And independently of a concern for equality, they would
presumably wish to avoid any distribution that left one of them badly-off in absolute terms.
7

36

The Natur e of Social Equality

member to treat the equally important interests of every other member as


exerting equal influence on social decisions. This gives determinate content
to the otherwise vague thought that the members of such a society regard one
another as equals. It means that the equally important interests of each of
them constrain social decisions to the same extent. This is, Itake it, a familiar
ideal. And one has only to consider its application to cases of racial or ethnic
or gender hierarchy to see that it has considerable critical force. To cite one
topical example, it is this ideal to which advocates of gay marriage appeal when
they argue that the interests of homosexuals in being able to marry are just as
strong as the interests of heterosexuals and, accordingly, that both sets of interests should be accommodated in the same way in our laws and institutions.
Some of the problems that arise in thinking about egalitarian personal relationships have straightforward parallels in thinking about a society of equals.
For example, questions about conflicting values and how to accommodate
them in egalitarian decision-making present challenges in both cases. And just
as there is a question about when a decision counts as being made within the
context of a personal relationship, so too there is a question about which decisions count as social decisions or decisions made on behalf of the society as
a whole. Without attempting a complete answer to this question, it seems safe
to assume that decisions about a societys constitution, its laws, and the design
of its major social, political, and economic institutions all count as matters of
social or collective decision in the relevant sense.
However, as this last observation already suggests, there are also obvious
and important differences between personal relationships and the relations
among the members of a political society. These differences affect the way the
relational conception applies to the two cases. Let me mention some of the
most significant differences.
First, in contrast with personal relationships, few of the relationships among
the members of society are face-to-face relationships. No member of a modern
society is acquainted with more than a tiny fraction of the other members. For
the most part, the relations among the members of society have an anonymous
character. Second, one consequence of the anonymous character of these
relations is that the members of society do not in general have individualized
knowledge of the needs, preferences and values of their fellow members. So
in thinking about how to satisfy the deliberative constraint, they have to rely
heavily on normalized assumptions about the characteristic needs and interests that members can be assumed to have.
Third, the anonymity of the relations among the members of society also
affects the character of their collective decision-making. Although their
decisions are subject to the egalitarian constraint, they are never arrived at
through face-to-face deliberations in which all members participate. This again

T h e P ra c t i c e o f E q u a l i t y

37

contrasts sharply with the case of personal relationships, in which face-to-face


joint deliberations and decisions are common. Yet the ideal of a society of
equals remains subject to the presumption that each participant in an egalitarian relationship is equally entitled to participate in decisions made within the
context of that relationship. As noted earlier, this participatory requirement
can be modified even in the case of personal relationships, but only in ways
that are acceptable to the participants themselves. In developing the ideal of
a society of equals, a crucial task will be to determine how the participatory
requirement should be modified to apply to the large-scale deliberative processes that are needed in a society whose members are largely anonymous to
one another.
Finally, the anonymity of the relationships among the members of society
sets up pressure to establish clear boundaries to those relationships and clear
limits to the scope of the decisions that are thought to fall within them. The
members of society will be interested in preserving social space within which
they can conduct their face-to-face personal relationships and pursue their
conceptions of the good life without being subject to comprehensive regulatory scrutiny from the perspective of an anonymous collectivity that lacks
individualized knowledge of its members needs, preferences, circumstances,
and values. This interest is reflected in the ubiquity of such distinctions as
those between the public and the private or between the political and the nonpolitical. It means that strategies of externalizing decisionstreating them as
falling outside the context of a given relationshipwill have a special salience
in connection with the generic relations among the members of society.
Although the case of a society of equals differs in these respects from the
case of egalitarian personal relationships, the core content of the egalitarian
deliberative constraint continues to apply. In a society of equals, the comparably important interests of each member are to constrain social decisions to
the same extent. This aspiration is reflected in the reciprocal attitudes and the
normally effective dispositions of each member. It is a complex aspiration and
not one that is easily satisfied, but it is an aspiration that is characteristic of
an egalitarian society and undertaking to satisfy it is a challenge that such a
society accepts.

1.5 The Role of Distribution in a


Society of Equals
As in the case of egalitarian personal relationships, the ideal of a society of
equals is not well described in distributive terms. It is not the view that there is
something that should be distributed equally among the members of society.

38

The Natur e of Social Equality

Instead, it is a practical ideal concerning the kind of society the members


want to construct and the way they want to relate to one another. This ideal is
reflected in their attitudes and dispositions and, in particular, in their convictions about the ways in which the interests of each of them should constrain
social decision. These attitudes are not themselves to be equalized but rather to
be securely entrenched in the motivational outlook of each member. As in the
case of personal relationships, then, external distributive questions are misplaced, and attempts to characterize a society of equals in purely distributive
terms are bound to be procrustean. The defining feature of this type of society
is not that there is an equal distribution of something among the members. So
in this case as in the case of personal relationships, the second doubt about the
relational conception of equality is unfounded. It is not true that the relational
conception, as applied to society as a whole, must itself take a distributive form.
Once again, however, internal distributive questions are not at all misplaced when thinking about a society of equals. Questions about the distribution of social resources are of obvious importance for the members of such a
society. What binds the members to one another is their shared participation
in a common social framework, and they are especially concerned with the
way that framework structures the distribution of the resources that are necessary for them to flourish. Here the egalitarian deliberative constraint is once
again relevant. In deliberating about the institutions and practices that constitute the social framework, the members accept that the comparably important
interests of each of them should exert comparable influence on their decisions.
As in the case of personal relationships, this constraint exerts strong pressure
in favor of an egalitarian standard of distribution. For example, it is difficult to
see how a pure laissez-faire market system of the kind Rawls referred to as the
system of natural liberty could be reconciled with the egalitarian constraint.8
Such a system allows the distribution of resources to be determined to a very
high degree by natural and social contingencies, such as peoples natural attributes and the social circumstances into which they were born, which themselves have no moral basis. This feature of the system is difficult to reconcile
with the egalitarian constraint, for it will inevitably compromise the ability of
some people to satisfy their basic interest in pursuing a conception of the good
life, while allowing other people to prosper in ways that satisfy no comparably
important interest.
But if the distributive implications of the relational conception are to this
extent the same in the case of a society of equals as they are in the case of egalitarian personal relationships, there are also important differences between the

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press, 1971).

T h e P ra c t i c e o f E q u a l i t y

39

two cases. And these differences suggest that the first of the two doubts about
the relational conception may get more of a purchase in the case of a society
of equals. The central point is that some of the reasons for doubting whether
the participants in egalitarian personal relationships would rely on any fixed
distributive formula do not apply to a society of equals. For example, concerns
about moralism and scorekeeping seem less significant in this case. And for the
members of a society of equals, who lack the kind of direct deliberative access
that the participants in an egalitarian personal relationship have, an output
measure like a distributive formula, indirect though it is, may be the best way
of judging whether the egalitarian deliberative constraint has been satisfied.
For them, the fact that resources have been distributed equally may be the best
available indicator that the comparably important interests of all of them constrained the processes of social decision to the same extent.
In addition, the anonymity of the relations among the members of society militates in favor of a clear public standard to govern the distribution of
resources. Without the extensive mutual knowledge that is available at the
level of personal relationships, the members of society are unable to engage
in the kind of sensitive individualized consideration of one anothers interests
that such knowledge makes possible. Instead, they need a clear public standard
governing distribution:a standard they can all accept as an appropriate basis
for judging whether, on the bounded but vitally important range of issues that
concern them collectively as members, their shared egalitarian aspirations
have been satisfied.
These considerations may serve to revive the first doubt about the relational view of equality. Their tendency, it seems, is to suggest that the ideal of a
society of equals supports egalitarian distributive principles of some familiar
kind. But we still need to determine which principles in particular egalitarians
should accept, and that is precisely the question to which the distributive view
is addressed. The suspicion, then, is that there is no conflict between the distributive and relational views; they are simply addressing different questions.
This suspicion is likely to be reinforced when one considers that the egalitarian deliberative constraint seems to underdetermine the choice among candidate distributive principles. As earlier observed, the deliberative constraint
exerts general pressure in the direction of egalitarian distribution, and it provides a basis for rejecting nonegalitarian arrangements like the laissez-faire
system of natural liberty. It also provides strong grounds for opposing systems
of hereditary caste and privilege, and it vindicates the familiar complaint that
we do not live in a society of equals if our laws and policies are shaped to a disproportionate degree by the interests of the rich and powerful. Beyond that, it
is not clear that the deliberative constraint provides a basis for selecting among
the different egalitarian distributive principles that have been proposed.

40

The Natur e of Social Equality

Although the participants in egalitarian personal relationships may not need


such a principle, a society of equals does need one:or, at any rate, it needs a
principled public standard to regulate distribution and provide a shared basis
for the justification of decisions made on behalf of the society as a whole. The
inability of the egalitarian deliberative constraint to determine such a principle
seems to confirm that it provides no alternative to the distributive conception.
I draw a different conclusion from the fact that the deliberative constraint
underdetermines the choice among candidate distributive principles. Recall
that the deliberative constraint is only one dimension of the broader relational
ideal, the ideal of a relationship among equals. If it is unclear whether a given
principle is compatible with the deliberative constraint, then the next question is whether the principle is consistent with the broader ideal. And if two
different distributive principles both seem compatible with the deliberative
constraint, then the question is whether either of them coheres better than the
other with the idea of living together as equals. These are practical questions
in the sense that, in order to answer them, we must consider what it would
actually be like to carry on human relationships on the terms specified in the
proposed principles.
Suppose, for example, that there is disagreement about whether hedonistic act-utilitarianism is compatible with the deliberative constraint. One side
maintains that it is not, since hedonistic utilitarianism would permit a persons
fundamental interests to be sacrificed in order to maximize aggregate welfare.
In such a case, this side argues, the interests of the person who undergoes the
sacrifice are not exerting the same influence on social decision as the comparable interests of those who are not sacrificed. The other side argues, however,
that the deliberative constraint is satisfied even in this case, because the fundamental interests of the person who undergoes the sacrifice are being assigned
exactly the same weight in the overall hedonistic calculus as the comparable
interests of others. It is simply this persons bad fortune that his interests are
outweighed while theirs are not.
On a relational view, the way to make progress in resolving this disagreement is to consider which sides position can be more readily reconciled with
the broader ideal of a society of equals. We saw earlier that, in such a society,
members have a reciprocal commitment to treat one another with respect.
They view one another as possessing the entitlements and responsibilities
associated with full-fledged agency. No member is seen as possessing any
more or less authority than the other members, except by virtue of a division
of responsibility that all can accept, and each member sees the other members
as entitled to participate fully and equally in determining the future course
and character of their shared relationship. According to a relational view, the
important question is whether utilitarian aggregation is compatible with this

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41

ideal of society. This is not merely a question of logical consistency but also a
question about the human implications of living together on utilitarian terms.
Once the question is framed in this way, it seems clear to me, though Iwill not
try to argue the point here, that an unrestricted principle of utilitarian aggregation is incompatible with the ideal of a society of equals.

1.6 Deeper Differences between the Distributive


and Relational Views
Still, even the broader ideal may not fully determine the choice among candidate distributive principles. But this is not an objection to the relational
view nor does it show that view to be normatively inert. Instead, it points to
two deeper differences between the distributive and relational views. First, as
we have seen, the relational view cannot be spelled out without reference to
other values. According to this view, equality is a complex ideal whose distinctively egalitarian aspects cannot be identified, nor their appeal appreciated,
independently of their connections with the other values, such as reciprocity
and respect, that also help to define the ideal. This marks a subtle but significant contrast with the distributive view, which takes the normative content of
the concept of equality to be located simply in the idea of an equal division,
and appeals to other goods or values, such as welfare or resources or status or
opportunity, only to determine the things to which the idea of an equal division
should be applied. To be sure, the choice among these candidate equalisanda
raises issues of principle concerning the role of values such as responsibility,
liberty, and desert in determining the distributive implications of equality.
Nevertheless, the idea that equality requires an equal division of something is
common ground among versions of the distributive view that differ on these
issues and so accept different equalisanda. They all take the normative content
of the concept of equality to be exhausted by the idea of a division of some
currency into equal amounts. In this sense, the distributive view, unlike the
relational view, treats equality as a normatively autonomous value.
The second, complementary difference between the two views concerns the
relevance of equality for questions of distributive justice. Both views agree that,
while equality is one of the values that helps to fix the content of justice, it is
justice rather than equality that provides the ultimate normative standard for
assessing distribution. But consider again the remark of Cohens that Iquoted
earlier. Cohens position is that there is some currency of which justice requires
people to have equal amounts, at least to the extent that this is not prohibited by
the values that compete with equality in fixing the requirements of justice. This
implies that equality alone suffices to give us a distributive formula, albeit one

42

The Natur e of Social Equality

whose application may at times be limited because of conflicts with other values.
It follows that, in addition to being normatively autonomous, equality is also dis
tributively self-sufficient. Not only is its normative content exhausted by the idea
of an equal divisionby the idea there is something people should have equal
amounts ofbut, in addition, equality is capable all on its own of generating a
presumptively authoritative principle of distribution, albeit one that may have to
give way if, from the standpoint of justice, other conflicting values trump equality in some cases. Once again, the relational conception takes a different view.
Not only do other values enter into the definition of equality, so that equality is
not normatively autonomous, but, in addition, equality so understood need not
by itself yield any fully determinate principle for regulating the distribution of
resources, not even a presumptive or prima facie one. Although some candidate
principles will be incompatible with the ideal of a society of equals, that ideal
may not fully determine the choice of a single principle. This is unsurprising,
according to the relational view, for there is no reason to expect equality to be
distributively self-sufficient. The regulative principles governing distribution
are the principles of distributive justice, and those principles are answerable to
a range of values, of which equality is just one. None of these values need determine even a prima facie principle of distribution on its own. In Rawls representative formulation, the principles of justice specify the fair terms of cooperation
for free and equal persons. This does not mean that we first establish what principles of distribution are required by equality and then ask to what extent the
competing values of fairness, freedom, and cooperation restrict the application
of that egalitarian principle. It means that justice is the virtue that tells us how
the distribution of resources should be regulated so as jointly to accommodate
all of these values. This is not to deny that distributions can be assessed as more
or less egalitarian in some purely arithmetic sense. It is not, for example, to deny
that we can use the Gini coefficient to measure income inequality. It is rather to
assert that equality as a value, considered on its own and without reference to the
other values that bear on justice, need not yield a fully determinate distributive
principle that enjoys even prima facie authority.
It is tempting to conclude from this that the bearing of equality on issues
of distributive justice is weaker on the relational view than it is on the distributive view. This would be a mistake. Consider, for example, the well-known
criticisms of various luck-egalitarian principles as having unacceptably
harsh or demeaning implications in some cases.9 One reply by defenders of
luck-egalitarianism is to say that these criticisms do not show that it provides
See, for example, the classic papers by Elizabeth Anderson, What Is the Point of Equality?
Ethics 109, no. 2 (1999):287387, and Jonathan Wolff, Fairness, Respect, and the Egalitarian
Ethos, Philosophy & Public Affairs 29, no. 2 (1998):97122.
9

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43

the wrong account of distributive equality, only that equality may be overridden by other values in some cases. From a relational perspective, however, this
reply misses the distinctively egalitarian character of the criticisms. The harshness of unadorned luck-egalitarian principles is a reason for thinking that such
principles are incompatible with the ideal of a society of equals, so that they are
ruled out as unjust on specifically egalitarian grounds. Rather than speaking
for luck-egalitarian principles, albeit not decisively, equality speaks decisively
against them. Here it is the relational view rather than the distributive view
that has clearer implications for justice.
If what Ihave been saying is correct, then the first doubt about the relational
conception can be allayed even as it applies to the case of a society of equals.
The relational conception understands the bearing of equality on issues of distribution very differently than does the distributive conception. In assessing a
candidate distributive principle, the distributive conception will lead us to ask
whether that principle has correctly identified the currency of which people
should have equal amounts, whereas the relational conception will lead us to
ask whether the principle sets out plausible terms for regulating the relations
among the members of a society of equals. Although the general tendency of
the relational conception is to support strong limits on allowable economic
inequalities understood in purely arithmetic terms, and although the relational conception confirms the need for a public set of principles to regulate
distribution, it insists that the requisite principles are given by justice and not
by equality. Equality by itself need not determine a distributive principle with
even presumptive authority. It is not normatively autonomous nor need it be
distributively self-sufficient. Although it is conceivable that the same distributive principles will be selected no matter which conception of equality one
begins with, there is no reason to expect this and offhand it seems unlikely. So
if we wish to investigate the content of distributive justice, it matters which of
these conceptions of equality we accept.

1.7Conclusion
As Isaid earlier, my sympathies lie for the most part with the relational conception. However, Ihave provided little in the way of direct argument in its favor.
My aims have been more modest. Ihave tried to show two things. The first is
that the relational conception is an independent conception of equality, which
is not reducible to a version of the distributive conception. The second is that it
makes a difference which of these two conceptions we accept. If we accept the
distributive conception, we will see equality as a value that is essentially concerned with distribution and that, on its own, generates a distributive formula

44

The Natur e of Social Equality

with presumptive authority. We will think it important to identify that formula, which we may see as providing the core of an egalitarian conception
of justice. If we accept the relational conception, by contrast, we will see
equality as a broad practical ideal governing the structure of human relationships, an ideal that itself draws on a variety of other values and that has a clear
bearing on questions of distribution but does not yield determinate principles
of distribution in isolation from other values. We will think it important to
develop this ideal across a broad front. Insofar as we are concerned with social
and political philosophy in particular, we will think it important to identify
the kinds of practices and institutions we would have to create, and the kinds
of attitudes and dispositions we would have to possess, in order for us to live in
a genuine society of equals.

Acknowledgments
Earlier versions of this article were presented to conferences at the University
of London and the Central European University and to a seminar at Columbia
Law School. Iam indebted to Jnos Kis, Daniel Putnam, and Joseph Raz for
helpful critical comments.

Relational Equality,
Non-Domination, and Vulnerability
Marie Garrau and Ccile Laborde

In this essay, we attempt to do three things. In the first section, we suggest that republicanism is a paradigmatic relational theory of equality.
Much in the spirit of Elizabeth Anderson and Samuel Schefflers relational
approaches, the republican ideal points not merely or exclusively to a distributively just state but aims at creating a society where citizens enjoy
equal standing. In the second section, we focus on Philip Pettits republicanism and account for his commitment to relational equality. We argue
that Pettits concern with domination relies on a distinctive anthropology
of social interdependence and mutual vulnerability. However, in the third
section, we show that the republican conception of vulnerability is too narrow to accommodate important threats to relational equality. Drawing on
the work of French sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu, Serge Paugam,
and Robert Castel, we argue that not all social vulnerabilities are reducible, or even connected, to domination. If that is the case, the pursuit of the
republican ideal of relational equality cannot be reduced to the pursuit of
non-domination, at least as Pettit understands it.

2.1 Republicanism:ARelational Theory


of Equality
There are two distinct approaches to egalitarianism in contemporary
political philosophy:distributive and relational. Distributive approaches
remain dominant in normative analytical liberal writings and are endorsed
by prominent philosophers such as Richard Arneson, Ronald Dworkin, as
45

46

The Natur e of Social Equality

well as many followers of John Rawls.1 Relational approachessometimes


also called theories of social equality or status equalityhave been put
forward as alternatives to distributive approaches by writers such as Elizabeth
Anderson, Samuel Scheffler, Jonathan Wolff, and Christian Schemmel.2 This
section clarifies the core commitments of relational equality and suggests that
republicanismparticularly the republicanism of non-domination associated
with Philip Pettit3seems to be a promising relational theory of equality.
Let us first clarify the basic contrast between distributive and relational theories of equality. The axiomatic starting point of all distributive theories is that
equality is a basic moral value that requires that certain goods be fairly distributed by the state among individuals. Theorists then proceed to discuss three
distinct issues. The first concerns the currency of equality:should individuals
be equalized in respect to their resources, or their welfare, or some other metric? The second concerns the principle of distribution:does equality require
priority to the worst-off, or some alternative principle such as sufficientarianism? The third issue is what counts as a disadvantage for purposes of egalitarian
compensation:physical handicap, medical needs, limited talents, unfavorable
social positions, unsuccessful gambles, expensive tastes, demanding religious
commitments? The latter issue has provided a fertile terrain of discussion for
the dominant school of distributivism, luck egalitarianism. According to luck
egalitarians, justice demands that society compensate disadvantages deriving
from brute luck, but does not require that it corrects disadvantages that are due
to option luck. Market-based and other inequalities are legitimate when they
flow from personal choice; but they must be corrected by the redistributive
state when they do not.4
R ichard Arneson, Liberalism, Distributive Subjectivism, and Equal Opportunity for
Welfare, Philosophy and Public Affairs 19, no. 2 (1990): 158194; Richard Arneson, Rawls,
Responsibility, and Distributive Justice in Justice, Political Liberalism, and Utilitarianism:Themes
from Harsanyi, ed. Maurice Salles and John A. Weymark (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2008), 80107; Ronald Dworkin, What Is Equality? Part II. Equality of Resources,
Philosophy and Public Affairs 10 (1981): 283345; Gerald A. Cohen, On the Currency of
Egalitarian Justice, Ethics 99, no. 4 (1989):906944.
2
Elizabeth Anderson, What Is the Point of Equality? Ethics 109, no. 2 (1999):287337;
Samuel Scheffler, What Is Egalitarianism? Philosophy & Public Affairs 31, no. 1 (2003):539;
Jonathan Wolff, Fairness, Respect, and the Egalitarian Ethos, Philosophy &Public Affairs 27,
no. 2 (1998): 97122; Christian Schemmel, Distributive and Relational Equality, Politics,
Philosophy & Economics 11, no. 2 (September 2011):123148; Iris Marion Young, Justice and the
Politics of Difference (Princeton:Princeton University Press, 1990).
3
Philip Pettit, Republicanism. A Theory of Freedom and Government (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1997); Philip Pettit, On the Peoples Terms. ARepublican Theory and Model for
Democracy (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2012).
4
The paradigmatic exposition of the luck egalitarian position is Arneson, Rawls, Respon
sibility and Distributive Justice.
1

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47

Theorists of relational equality have retorted that luck egalitarianism offers


a misguided, or at least truncated, view of equality. As Elizabeth Anderson has
argued, the principle of compensation adopted by proponents of luck egalitarianism can lead the state to abandon victims of bad option luck to their fate
and fail to protect them from exploitation. 5 It can also lead the state to consider citizens who are victims of brute luck as objects of pity, thereby violating
the principle according to which every citizen should be treated with respect.6
For Anderson, these flaws come from a narrow interpretation of equality conceived as equality of divisible and privately appropriated goods. But they can
be remedied if we redefine equality in relational terms, as an equality of standing or an equality of status. Equality, for her, is not primarily about the goods
that individuals are entitled to. It is, rather, about how individuals relate to
one another. This conception captures the vision motivating egalitarian social
movements, who have defended the rights of workers, the disabled, women or
racial minorities to live in a society of equals, where difference, whether natural or social, does not become a marker of social oppression or subordination.
As Anderson famously put it, egalitarianisms proper positive aim is not to
ensure that everyone gets what they morally deserve, but to create a community in which people stand in relations of equality to others. 7
Stated schematically, the vision of relational equality is simple and intuitively
attractive. Yet the precise contours of its proper positive aim are not often
clear. So it might be useful to identify four key components central to relational
approaches. As we shall see, there is one theory of politicsrepublicanism
that wholeheartedly endorses these four concerns, and therefore prima facie
qualifies as a paradigmatically relational theory of equality.
Relational approaches can be said to depart from luck egalitarianism
and, more generally from distributive approaches of equality, 8 in four main
ways:they insist on the importance of equal access to nonmaterial goods; they
underline the expressive nature of political institutions; they argue that the

A nderson, What is the Point of Equality? 295301.


Ibid., 302307.
7
Ibid., 288289.
8
A s noted earlier, luck egalitarianism is the dominant paradigm among contemporary distributive theories of justice, but not all distributive theories endorse luck egalitarianism. Rawls
theory of justice as fairness, which can be considered a source both by proponents of luck egalitarianism and by theorists of relational equality (Scheffler, 2003), is a good example of this.
However, while Rawls theory is irreducible to luck egalitarianism, it remains focused on the
question of the fair distribution of social goods. In this respect, and as we shall see, it falls under
some of the critiques addressed by theorists of relational equality to standard conceptions of
equality.
5
6

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The Natur e of Social Equality

achievement of equality requires a democratic ethos; and, finally, they draw


attention to the structure of social relationships.

2.1.1 Equal Access to Nonmaterial Goods


First, relational approaches of equality postulate that equality does not merely
require the distribution of material goods such as income, resources, and
opportunities. Instead, people are entitled to equal access to what Rawls calls
the social bases of self-respectthe social infrastructure that gives people
confidence in the value of their lives and pursuits. Rawls went as far as saying
that the social bases of self-respect are the most important primary good in
his theory of justice.9 This insight directly tallies with the concerns of recognition theorists such as Nancy Fraser and Axel Honneth.10 Yet it has remained
radically under-developed in Rawlsian political philosophynot surprisingly
perhaps, given that it is unclear how nonmaterial goods such as recognition
or the bases of self-respect can be subjected to the principles of fair distribution that are at the heart of Theory of Justice11 or can be distributed at all, as Iris
Young argued in her critique of the distributive paradigm.12

2.1.2 Expressive Nature of Political Institutions


Second, relational approaches shift the focus away from what people need to
lead a good life (resources, opportunities or primary goods) to what institutions need to do in order to treat people with equal respect. In line with expressive theories of law and the state and in contrast to distributive theories, it is
concerned, not only with what people should get, but how they should get it if
they live in a society of equals.13 One common critique leveled at luck egalitarians by advocates of relational equality is that it pursues outcome-based distributive fairness at the expense of process-based expressive respect. Welfare
recipients, for example, may be forced into shameful revelations of their
9John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 2nd ed. (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1999), 386.
10
Nancy Fraser, From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a Postsocialist
Age, New Left Review 212 (1995):6893; Nancy Fraser and Axel Honneth, Redistribution or
Recognition? APolitical-Philosophical Exchange (London:NewYork, Verso, 2003); Axel Honneth,
The Struggle for Recognition. The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts, trans. by J. Anderson
(Oxford:Polity Press, 1995).
11
Christian Lazzeri, Le problme de la reconnaissance dans le libralisme dontologique de
Rawls, Revue du Mauss 23 (2004):165179.
12
Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference. (Princeton, NJ:Princeton University
Press, 1990).
13
Schemmel, Distributive and Relational Equality.

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49

personal circumstances, if they are successfully to claim compensation for


their undeserved misfortune from the state. Yet to be treated as an equal is
precisely to be able to make claims on one another by virtue simply of ones
status as a citizen, without any need for a moralized account of the details of
ones particular circumstances.14 Another example of a distributively equal,
yet relationally unequal institution is that of a state that materially protects
the equal religious freedoms of all citizens, yet symbolically associates itself
with one religion. Symbolic religious establishment, on that view, may not be a
distributive wrong but it can be an expressive wrong, insofar as it undermines
the equal status of citizens.15

2.1.3 Egalitarian Social Ethos


The third component of relational approaches shifts the focus away from institutions back to individuals. In a society of equals, it is not sufficient that institutions show appropriate expressive respect for citizens. It is also necessary
that citizens themselves display the right kind of attitudes toward one another.
Theorists of relational equality, therefore, reject the view, associated with
Rawls, that only institutions, but not individuals, should be motivated by the
demands of liberal justice.16 Arguing against the limited scope of Rawls duty
of civility, G.A. Cohen famously argued that the realization of Rawls difference principle requires that people share a more comprehensive egalitarian
ethosthat they are not merely motivated by their self-interest but, rather, by
a feeling of community, care, and mutuality.17

2.1.4. Structure of Social Relations


The fourth and last component of relational approaches is the most
far-reaching and breaks with the long-standing liberal reluctance to transform and reshape civil society in line with valued political and social ideals.
Historically, liberalism has been a profoundly transformative theory and
practice of politics. By contrast, contemporary liberal philosophy combines
A nderson, What is the Point of Equality?; Scheffler, What Is Egalitarianism?;
Wolff, Fairness, Respect, and the Egalitarian Ethos, Philosophy and Public Affairs 27, no 2
(1998):97122.
15
Ccile Laborde, Political Liberalism and Religion, On Separation and Establishment,
Journal of Political Philosophy 21, no 1 (2013):6786.
16
A nderson, What Is the Point of Equality?; Wolff, Fairness, Respect, and the Egalitarian
Ethos.
17
Gerald A. Cohen, Incentives, Inequality, and Community. The Tanner Lectures on Human
Values, ed. G. Peterson, vol. 13 (Salt Lake City:University of Utah Press, 1992).
14

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The Natur e of Social Equality

a strong ideal-theory-based redistributive focus with a relative indifference


to the shape and structure of actual social relations. This is compounded by
a commitment, central to Rawlss political liberalism, not to enforce comprehensive liberal notions of individual autonomy or equality onto a society
characterized by an irreducible fact of pluralism.18 As theorists of relational
equality as well as other critics have pointed out, however, it is difficult to see
how individuals can display justice-conducive attitudes if they live in a society
that is marked by large and unchecked socioeconomic inequalities, the pervasiveness of a competitive and profit-driven ethics, the persistence of structural
forms of oppression, and dominating social relations within familial, religious,
and other private associations. Theorists of relational equality argue that citizens will only cultivate an egalitarian ethos if they live in a civil societymarket, associations, familiesitself structured around egalitarian institutions
and norms.
Not all theorists of relational equality have endorsed those four claims. The
first two claims are the most popular in the existing literature on relational
equality (Scheffler, Anderson, Wolff, Schemmel)not surprisingly perhaps,
as they do not radically break with the Ralwsian commitment to combine
a just, redistributive welfare state with a civil society where individuals and
associations are free to pursue their good in their own way. Liberals are understandably suspicious of what they take to be illiberal comprehensive political
theoriescommunitarian and socialist, notably. However, there is an alternative political tradition, which takes on board basic liberal commitments to
individualism and pluralism, yetalso places the four components of relational
equality at its heart. Republicanism has a long pedigree of association with progressive, reformist, and social-democratic political movements in France and
other countries. Philosophically, it has recently received paradigmatic articulation in Pettits seminal republicanism of non-domination.19 Citizens enjoy
non-domination when they are not dependent on a social relationship in which
other agents wield arbitrary power over them. This idea has received extensive
elaboration elsewhere.20 Here we show that republican non-domination is,
prima facie, a promising theory of relational equality.
Consider first how republican non-domination swiftly accommodates the
four components of relational equality highlighted above. Let us take them
John Rawls, Political Liberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, expanded edition), xvixxix.
19
Pettit, Republicanism; Pettit, On the Peoples Terms.
20
John Maynor, Republicanism in the Modern World (Cambridge:Polity Press, 2003); Ccile
Laborde and John Maynor (eds.), Republicanism and Political Theory (Oxford:Blackwell, 2008);
Frank Lovett, A General Theory of Domination and Justice. (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2010).
18

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in reverse order. First, republicans worry about both vertical and horizontal
domination: domination in the private sphereimperiumis as acute a
source of political concern as domination by the statedominium. As republicans have long argued, individuals who live at the mercy of othersslaves,
womencannot be citizens. This means that citizenship is not purely a formal
notion applying to the state and its laws. It is, more comprehensively, a social
notion with wide-ranging implications on the shape and form of civil society. Second, a dominant theme in republican writings has been that of virtue.
Virtue points to those attitudes and dispositions that citizens need to display
towards the state and toward one another. While historically those virtues
were narrowly martial, masculinist and hierarchical, in egalitarian societies
they become virtues associated with the ethos of democracyequal respect,
solidarity, and care. Republicans have been open about the need for republics to build a citizen society.21 Third, republicans expect citizens to identify
with their institutions, so as not to let politics become the preserve of a narrow elite. Institutions matter morally not only for what they do, but also for
how they do it. Republicanism, therefore, is a spontaneously expressive theory
of law and institutions.22 Fourth, republicans have long defined the currency
of equality in nonexclusively material terms, as equality of statusthus
incorporating many of the concerns of recognition theorists. This does not
mean that republicans have been indifferent to the redistribution of material
goodsthe growth of the welfare state in France, for example, was grounded
in solidariste ideals derived from republican ideals of equality, mutuality and
reciprocity.23 Butas is the case with most relational theoriesrepublicans
justify material redistribution by appeal to a broader moral vision, that of the
society of equals,24 and material redistribution is necessary but never sufficient
to achieve a society of equals.
This leads us to the second, more general sense in which republicanism is a
promising relational theory of equality. The republican concern for the quality
of social relationships comes from a rejection of the peculiar form of atomism

21
Stuart White and Daniel Leighton (eds.), Building a Citizen Society. The Emerging Politics
of Republican Democracy (London: Lawrence and Wishard, 2008); Richard Dagger, Civic
Virtues:Rights, Citizenship and Republican Liberalism (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1997);
John Maynor, Republicanism in the Modern World; Victoria Costa, Neo-Republicanism, Freedom
as Non-Domination, and Citizen Virtue Politics, Philosophy, Economics 8 (2009):401419.
22
Pettit, On the Peoples Terms, 7792; Ccile Laborde, Political Liberalism and Religion.
23
Jean-Fabien Spitz, Le Moment rpublicain en France (Paris: Gallimard, 2005); Sudhir
Hazareesingh, Intellectual Founders of the Republic. Five Studies in Nineteenth-Century French
Republican Political Thought (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2001).
24
R ichard Dagger, Neo-Republicanism and the Civic Economy, Philosophy, Politics, and
Economics 5, no 2 (2006):151173; Pierre Rosanvallon, La socit des gaux (Paris:Seuil, 2011).

52

The Natur e of Social Equality

that is characteristic of luck egalitarianism. Republicanism, by contrast, is


grounded in a holistic individualism, which takes social interdependence and
mutual vulnerability as basic anthropological and political starting points. As
we shall see in the next section, this political anthropology grounds the republican commitment to relational equality and accounts for its specific interpretation in terms of freedom as non-domination.

2.2 Republican Non-Domination:Mutual


Interdependence and Vulnerability
The concept of vulnerability plays a central role in several moral and political theories that have criticized the tendency of contemporary theories of
justice to focus on distribution at the expense of a reflection on the kind of
relationships that should be furthered between citizens in a democratic society.25 However, it is in Pettits republicanism that we find the chief elements of
a fully developed political theory of vulnerability. While arguing that human
beings are fundamentally vulnerable in so far as they depend on one another,
Pettit also pays special attention to the social and political processes that can
increase vulnerability and deprive agents of their autonomy and equal status.
He is, as a result, able to embed vulnerability into a broader normative theory
of non-dominationthe republican version of relational equality.

2.2.1 AGeneral Definition of Vulnerability


Let us start with a general definition of vulnerability. Vulnerability results from
a situation in which an agent is both dependent on and exposed to another agent.
To be vulnerable is to be exposed to the power of someone we depend on
physically, affectively, socially or economically. In this respect, vulnerability
supposes the existence of a relationship of dependency between agents who
have the power to act on one another, and potentially, to harm one another.26
For instance, children are vulnerable to their parents in so far as they depend

See especially, Joan C.Tronto, Moral Boundaries. APolitical Argument for an Ethics of Care
(NewYork:Routledge, 1993); Joan C.Tronto, Caring Democracy. Markets, Equality and Justice
(New York: New York University Press, 2013); Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition
(1995); Axel Honneth and Joel Anderson, Autonomy, Vulnerability, Recognition and Justice,
in Autonomy and the Challenges to Liberalism:New Essays, ed. Joel Anderson and John Christman
(Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2005), 127149.
26
On this definition, see Robert Goodin, Protecting the Vulnerable. AReanalysis of our Social
Responsibilities. (Chicago:The University of Chicago Press, 1985), 111112.
25

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on their parents for the physical and affective care they receive; yet they can
also be harmed by their parents. In the same way, citizens are vulnerable to the
state:in so far as they depend on the state for the rights they enjoy, they can be
harmed when the state deprives them of their rights or violates these rights.
However, vulnerability does not necessarily suppose the existence of a
structural asymmetry, or of an imbalance of power, between interdependent
agents. For instance, co-workers or lovers are vulnerable to one another in so
far as each member of the relation has the power to affect the other, merely
because of the relationships they both depend on. Vulnerability then only supposes the existence of a dependency relationship between agents who can act
on one another and, potentially, harm one another. If vulnerability increases
when the relationship becomes asymmetrical, or when one agent has more
power than the other, it does not disappear when the relationship is symmetrical, or the power equal. Rather, in these cases, we can say that vulnerability is
mutual or equally distributed between agents.

2.2.2 Pettits Twofold Perspective on Vulnerability


The notion of vulnerability plays a pivotal role in Pettits theory. Yet while the
concept often appears in his texts, it is rarely the object of a proper definition;
and its meanings vary. It may be helpful to distinguish two different uses of the
concept, which refer to two different levels of vulnerability, that we propose to
call fundamental and problematic, respectively.
First, Pettit suggests that human beings, in so far as they are relational or
social beings, are fundamentally vulnerable to each other. Here, vulnerability works as an anthropological category, a common and irreducible fact of
human life, that proceeds from our mutual interdependence. It is because
human beings are forced to live together and cannot develop their human abilities outside social life that they are exposed to one another. In Republicanism,
Pettit does not refer often to this form of vulnerability. He mostly uses the term
vulnerability in relation to vulnerability classes,27 which are groups of people who share a feature that makes them vulnerable to domination. But when
he underlines the importance of personal trust in the republican society,28
he makes clear that the achievement of freedom as non-domination does not
mean that citizens will be invulnerable to each others actions. Because they will
remain mutually dependent on one another, they will remain exposed to each
others actions.29 Vulnerability being a structural aspect of human existence,
Pettit, Republicanism, 122.
Ibid., 265.
29
Ibid.
27

28

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The Natur e of Social Equality

it cannot be totally eliminated and will remain as a feature of interpersonal


relationships. In this respect, a state of non-domination is not designed to
eliminate all forms of vulnerability, but only those forms of vulnerability that
threaten citizens capacity to participate equally in social and political cooperation, that is those that derive from exposure to domination, whether social
or political.
It is in A Theory of Freedom, however, that we can find elements to support
the idea that Pettit conceives of human subjects as fundamentally vulnerable.
There, Pettit develops a conception of social freedom that is more comprehensive than his political conception of freedom as non-domination, but that
serves as a ground for the latter. Even though he does not use the term vulnerability in this text, Pettit repeatedly alludes to the two notions included in the
concept:dependency and exposure. Dependency appears in Pettits definition
of autonomy understood as discursive control. Indeed, autonomy as discursive control supposes that the agent depends on others attitude to develop her
autonomy, and more precisely on the presence of discourse-friendly relationships. 30 If she is not considered as an equal interlocutor, she will not be able to
take part in conversations and to achieve discursive control over her actions.
It follows that the agent is, in turn, exposed to others power, in so far as others can prevent her from developing or exercising her autonomy. This happens
when she is despised, ignored, or constrained for instance. So Pettit underlines
the fact that human beings can achieve autonomy only in so far as they are part
of certain types of relationshipnamely discourse-friendly relationships; but
he also insists on the fact that relationships can deeply alter autonomy. His
conception of freedom is based on the idea that because human beings are
interdependent, they are fundamentally vulnerable to one another.
In acknowledging the fundamental vulnerability of human beings and in
supporting a relational conception of autonomy, Pettit joins other theorists
who have criticized the atomist anthropology of some strands of liberalism.
Authors as different as Joan Tronto, 31 Martha Nussbaum, 32 or Axel Honneth, 33
for instance, all underline the fundamental vulnerability of human beings.
30
Philip Pettit, A Theory of Freedom. From the Psychology to the Politics of Agency (Oxford:Oxford
University Press, 2001), 6972.
31
Tronto, Moral Boundaries.
32
Martha Nussbaum, Women and Human Development. The Capabilities Approach
(Cambridge, MA:Cambridge University Press, 2000); Martha Nussbaum, Frontiers of Justice.
Disability, Nationality and Species Membership (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press,
2006).
33
Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition; Axel Honneth, Decentered Autonomy.
The Subject After the Fall, in The Fragmented World of the Social:Essays in Social and Political
Philosophy, trans. J. Farrell (NewYork:SUNY Press, 1995), 261271.

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They redefine autonomy in a relational way34 and offer alternative political ideals grounded on the acknowledgment of vulnerability. However, these authors
tend to reduce vulnerability to an anthropological category, that is, a common
and irreducible fact of our lives. As a result, they do not convincingly account
for the fact that some people are more vulnerable than others, because of the
social situations they happen to be in; moreover, they do not design precise
political answers to these forms of unequal vulnerabilities. In both respects,
Pettits approach is more promising. Indeed, Pettit does not reduce vulnerability to an anthropological category. He pays attention to the social conditions
that reduce or increase vulnerability and acknowledges that not all people are
equally vulnerable. In his perspective, that we are fundamentally vulnerable
does not only mean that we need the support and cooperation of other in order
to develop our abilities, whether in the form of care or recognition. It also
means that we are exposed to a specific risk:that of domination. That is why a
politics aiming at creating a society of equals should prevent the transformation of relations of mutual interdependence into relations of domination.
Pettit draws a strong and complex connection between vulnerability and
domination. It is this: vulnerability understood as a fundamental aspect of
human life opens up the possibility of domination; yet domination both
increases and changes the nature of vulnerability. Domination, conceived as a
social relationship where one agent has the capacity to interfere arbitrarily in
anothers course of action, can be seen as a primary cause of the intensification
of vulnerability. The problematic vulnerability produced by domination is no
longer compatible with autonomy; on the contrary, it indicates that autonomy
can no longer be exercised or maintained.
This is made clear in Pettits portrayal of the dominated agent. The dominated agent is vulnerable to the actions of the dominant agent, in the sense
that she is exposed to the dominant agents arbitrary power. But, in addition, she can be said to be especially vulnerable when this exposure alters her

A s Pettits approach made clear, relational conceptions of autonomy define autonomy neither as an individual property which grows naturally with the development of the agent cognitive
skills, nor as an ability that is best used alone, through the solitary definition of ones own ends for
instance. Rather, autonomy is conceived as a relational ability that can only develop with the support of others and that is best used within interaction. On relational conceptions of autonomy,
see also Jenifer Nedelsky, Reconceiving Autonomy:Sources, Thoughts and Possibilities, Yale
Journal of Law and Feminism 1, no 1 (1989): 736; Marylin Friedman, Autonomy and Social
Relationships, in Feminists Rethink the Self, ed. Diana T.Meyers (Boulder, CO:Westview Press,
1997), 4061; Catriona Mackenzie and Natalie Stoljar (eds.), Relational Autonomy. Feminist
Perspectives on Autonomy, Agency and the Social Self (Oxford, NewYork:Oxford University Press,
2000); Joel Anderson and John Christman (eds.), Autonomy and the Challenges to Liberalism:New
Essays (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2005).
34

56

The Natur e of Social Equality

sense of self-respect and agency in the long term. As Pettit suggests, domination does not only produce attitudes of strategic deference and anticipation
aimed at avoiding retaliation and punishment. In addition to these immediate
responses, it can also produce a vulnerability that manifests itself in feelings
of powerlessness and anxiety, and eventually in a lack of self-respect on the
part of the dominated agent. 35 Here then, vulnerability does not only refer to a
mere and common situation of dependence and exposure; it more specifically
describes the subjective and long-term effects of a relationship that deprives
the agent of her autonomy by refusing her the kind of recognition that is due
to equals.
So while problematic vulnerability is anchored in fundamental vulnerability, it cannot be conflated with it.

2.2.3 From Vulnerability to Non-Domination


From a normative point of view, the distinction between these two levels of
vulnerability and the identification of domination as a central factor of vulnerability intensification are crucial and explain the specific attractiveness of the
republican ideal of non-domination. That human beings are fundamentally
vulnerable means that they can only develop their autonomy in relation to
each other, which implies that social relationships should be of major importance for political theory. This importance given to social relationships, and
not only to the distribution of material goods, in the creation of a just society
is underlined in all the theories that start from the premise of vulnerability,
whether care ethics or recognition theories. In so far as the idea of fundamental
vulnerability is linked to a relational conception of autonomy, this is not surprising. However, the force of republicanism is to add that fundamental vulnerability can be increased and peoples autonomy inhibited by specific forms
of social relationships, domination relationships. This explains that republicanism focuses on the pursuit of non-domination in order to achieve relational
equality. Non-domination promises the end of domination and problematic
vulnerability, while acknowledging the inescapable facts of interdependence
and fundamental vulnerability. This is so because, as Pettit repeatedly insists,
one can only be free (non-dominated) in the company of others:republican
freedom is an inescapably social freedom. Freedom here appears as an intrinsically social and relational good, one that is not achieved through the absence
of (certain types of) institutions and relationships but rather through the presence (and active fostering) of the right kind of institutions and relationships.

Philip Pettit, Republicanism, 88.

35

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The ideal of non-domination promotes the creation of a social environment


where everyone is equally protected against domination and has the opportunity to develop and exercise their autonomy. In turn, such an ideal explains
why republicanism is so prompt to embrace the four key components that are
central to relational theories of equality.

2.2.4 Responding to Vulnerability, Promoting Equality:


The Republican Recommendations
We saw that Pettits republicanism of non-domination is rooted in a twofold
conception of vulnerability. In addition, this conception generates specific
political and institutional recommendations to protect citizens from vulnerability intensification and to promote the creation of a society of equals. 36
To achieve status equality conceived as equal protection against domination, Pettit makes several recommendations. Taken together, they can be
understood as the concrete way in which republicanism plans to address the
four key components that are at the heart of relational theories of equality.
First, Pettit advocates an original model of democracy, namely contestatory
democracy, whose goal is to give citizens collective control over the terms
of common life, thereby avoiding domination of one group over another. 37
Second, Pettit insists on the importance of civic virtues, conceived as attitudes
and dispositions necessary to prevent domination, whether political or social.
Vigilance toward the state and respect toward other citizens are required for
non-domination to be sustained. For republicans, these civic virtues can be
promoted by acting on the collective norms that frame individual conduct 38
and through a specific republican education. 39 Third, Pettit seeks to address
the problems of domination in the economic sphere and its consequences
in the social sphere. Without supporting a strict equality of resources,40 he
argues for a politics of redistribution aiming at preventing the imbalances of
resources that fuel social relationships of domination. Moreover, he suggests
that the republican ideal could lead to a reorganization of production and

Frank Lovett and Philip Pettit, Neorepublicanism: A Normative and Institutional


Research Program, Annual Review of Political Science 12 (2009):1129.
37
Philip Pettit, Republicanism. Pettit has further developed his theory of democracy in On the
Peoples Terms.
38
Philip Pettit and Geoffrey Brennan, The Economy of Esteem. An Essay on Civil and Political
Society (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2004).
39
John Maynor, Republicanism in the Modern World; Ccile Laborde, Critical Republicanism.
The Hijab Controversy and Political Philosophy (NewYork:Oxford University Press, 2008).
40
Pettit, Republicanism; Pettit, On the Peoples Terms, 7792.
36

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The Natur e of Social Equality

to a re-distribution of power in the workplace, notably through greater collective rights and contestation opportunities for workers.41
The republican ideal is dynamic and its precise institutional recommendations must remain open-ended.42 However, it is clear that a society of
non-domination is a society where citizens are equally recognized as fundamentally vulnerable and equally protected against social processes of vulnerability intensification. Pettits republicanism, therefore, appears as a plausible
and attractive theory of relational equality.

2.3 The Limits of Republicanism: Vulnerability


Beyond Domination
In this section, we reflect on some limitations inherent to a domination-centered
political theory of vulnerability. The question we want to ask is this: Are
all forms of problematic vulnerability connected to domination? Clearly
not:there are social processes that inhibit citizens autonomy and put status
equality into question, yet are not adequately captured by the republican
framework of domination. We first show that Pettits conception of domination cannot fully account for long-term structural vulnerability. We then suggest that problematic vulnerability does not always result from domination.
It follows that the ideal of non-domination might not be sufficient to protect
citizens autonomy and achieve relational equality.

2.3.1 Domination and Long-term Structural Vulnerability


According to Pettit, agents are dominated when they are dependent on a social
relationship in which other agents wield arbitrary power over them. Pettit
explains that power is arbitrary when the agent who exerts it does not take into
account the relevant interests of the agent he acts on,43 and he argues that the
best way to prevent it is to secure means of contestation for the less powerful
agents.44 This definition shows that a central characteristic of the republican
conception of domination is that it is agent-centered. It implies that there is
an identifiable agent, whether individual or collective, that can exert arbitrary
power on another agent; and it assumes that domination will mainly affect
the choice set available to the dominated agent, either by attaching a high cost
Pettit, Republicanism, 141142.
Pettit, Republicanism, 146.
43
Pettit, Republicanism, 55.
44
Ibid., 61sq.
41

42

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to one option or by making another disappear. From this point of view, the
republican conception differs from other accounts of domination, such as that
of Karl Marx, Pierre Bourdieu, or Iris Marion Young, who all define domination as a structural relationship, rather than as an interpersonal one. From
their perspective, domination does not need to be intentional or refer to the
will of an identifiable agent. It can be defined as a relationship based on a structural imbalance of power, which affects, not necessarily the choice set available
to the dominated agent, but their conception of themselves and their ability to
think of themselves as agents capable of choice.
Undoubtedly, the republican agential conception of domination has strong
advantages. As Frank Lovett noticed,45 it can account for most of the typical
relationships of domination, from slavery to serfdom, through to traditional
marriage or capitalist relationships between employers and employees. Yet,
by contrast to structural conceptions of domination, it does not adequately
account for the long-term effects of domination; noras a resultis it
well-equipped to address them. Feminist theory has shown that domination
produces long-term subjective effects on women, not only in the sense that
it deeply affects the way women perceive themselves and assess their agency
in the long run,46 but also in the sense that once the effective relationships of
domination have been removed, problematic vulnerability remains. Those who
were once subjected to domination or who grew up in a social environment
that still bears the mark of past relationships of domination, may no longer be
dominated in Pettits sense, but they still suffer the effects of domination.
To illustrate this claim, we draw on Bourdieus writings on male domination. As Bourdieu noticed in the last essay of Masculine Domination,47 the formal structures of male domination have been removed in France. Women have
fought for, and won, equal rights in the family and the public sphere; they have
entered the labor market and secured financial independence; and they have
achieved high levels of academic success. Their formal status is equal to that of
men. Yet, womens vulnerability has not disappeared, even if it now takes a form
that Pettits conception of domination cannot easily account for. For instance,
despite the law voted in 1999 to promote an equal proportion of women and
men in the French National Assembly, women remain under-represented in the
Assembly, as well as in other places of political power; despite the laws demanding wage equality between men and women since the mid-1980s, womens
45
Frank Lovett, A General Theory of Domination and Justice (NewYork:Oxford University
Press, 2010).
46
Something that Pettit notices.
47
Pierre Bourdieu, Masculine Domination, trans. R. Nice (Stanford, CA:Stanford University
Press, 2002).

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wages remain inferior to mens wages; despite the legal recognition of conjugal
rape as a crime, women remain subjected to this kind of violence in a far too
large numbers. Women continue to do most of the care and domestic work at
home, which can lead them to lower their professional expectations; they are
vulnerable to harassment on the streets, which leads them to restrict their use
of the public space. Moreover, sociological analyses suggest that women have
often internalized their subordinate status, in such a way that they do not always
take advantage of the social and legal opportunities that have been designed for
them. So even if they are not actually subjected to domination in Pettits sense,
they remain especially vulnerable in the sense that they, as a historically constituted vulnerability class, are deprived of the social conditions fully to exercise
their autonomy.
This example draws attention to the power of the social norms and representations that underpin domination and highlights their central role in the
maintenance of unequal social relationships, even in the absence of actual relationships of domination.48 Internalized by social agents and inscribed in the
functioning of social institutions, these norms and representations categorize
social agents, attribute differential meanings and values to their social positions and identities, and equip them with unequal social power. For example,
the idea that women are naturally capable of caring for others helped justify
the legal obligation that women had to ask for their husbands permission to
work outside the home. This has now been abrogated, yet the idea that domestic and care work is a natural task for women has persisted (after all, someone has to take care of the kids). Deeply ingrained social perceptions prevent
women from committing to a professional career on an equal footing with
men, even though no oneneither their husband nor other mendominates
them at that particular moment.
We may wonder whether Pettits agential concept of domination is the
most appropriate to account for these phenomena of adaptive preferences
in response to social contexts structured by norms and representations that
assign different and unequally valued social roles and identities to social
agents. Maybe the concept of oppression better describes the obstacles to
autonomy and status equality that are at stake here. At any rate, Pettits conception of domination does not seem well-equipped to respond to these phenomena because it focuses on interpersonal relationships of domination and
does not take sufficiently into account the weight of norms and representations
in the constitution of agents identities and social power. A more structural
conception of domination would incorporate an analysis of the role of social

Laborde, Critical Republicanism.

48

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norms in the long-term persistence of vulnerability.49 This would affect the


scope of the political ideal of non-domination. In addition to combating interpersonal relationships of domination, republicans would aim to act on those
social representations and norms that give differential meaning and value to
social agents identities and positions. Whether such a comprehensive reworking of dominationin line with the more radical theories of recognition theorists such as Iris Marion Youngis compatible with the liberal inspiration of
Pettits republicanism remains open to question.
There is, however, an even more daunting challenge for republicans.
Womens vulnerability, we have seen, is at least historically connected to pervasive structures of gender domination. Yet, there are other forms of problematic vulnerability that are produced by social processes entirely unconnected
to domination, at least as Pettit defines it. We turn to such cases in the next and
last section.

2.3.2 Vulnerability as the Result of Social


Disqualification and Disaffiliation
The concept of vulnerability, understood as an inhibition of autonomy through
social processes that deny the relational and social conditions of agents autonomy, is central to the sociological analyses of two different social processes
that can be considered as typical of late modernity. The first one is social disqualification and has been studied by Serge Paugam; the second one is disaffiliation and has been extensively analyzed by Robert Castel.
Paugam introduced the concept of social disqualification while working
on poverty in France. 50 Drawing on Georges Simmels work, Paugam defines
the poor as a group of citizens who depend mainly on welfare assistance for
their subsistence. He then introduces the concept of social disqualification to
account both for the objective aspects of their social situation (what it results
from) and its subjective aspects (how it is experienced). Social disqualification
is defined as a social process whereby an agent is excluded from employment
and forced to depend on welfare for her subsistence; this is the objective aspect
of poverty. This process goes hand in hand with a second one, which accounts
for the subjective aspects of poverty:stigmatization. Through stigmatization,

49
For a similar objection to the narrowness of Pettits conception of domination and its difficulty to account for unintentional social processes that threaten peoples agency, see Sharon
R. Krause, Beyond Non-Domination: Agency, Inequality and the Meaning of Freedom,
Philosophy and Social Criticism 39, no 2 (2013):187208.
50
Serge Paugam, La disqualification sociale. Essai sur la nouvelle pauvret, 2nd ed. (Paris:PUF,
2000).

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the agents identity is defined negatively in reference to her subaltern social position, and paradoxically presented as its cause. In this regard, social disqualification implies a social judgment based on a normhere the norm that defines
social success and social respectability by reference to paid work and economic
independencethat the agent is perceived as violating. Stigmatization produces
a negative identity that welfare recipients conform to in their dealings with welfare officials; but this negative identity threatens their sense of their own value
and can lead them to isolate themselves from others. Only those who can expect
to find a job quickly and who can count on other sources of social recognition
family, friends, involvement in professional training or local associationscan
resist the stigma of dependency to welfare. But even in these cases, being socially
identified as a loser, as a lazy person or as a parasite because of a social situation one did not choose causes suffering and self-doubt, and eventually alters the
affective ground of personal autonomy.51
Can a republicanism of non-domination respond to the vulnerability produced by social disqualification and secure the affective basis of welfare recipients autonomy? To be sure, as we saw, republicanism has resources to address
the expressive deficit of impersonal bureaucracies such as the welfare state,
when they humiliate recipients and fail to treat them as equal citizens. Yet such
critique of bureaucratic domination does not seem to get to the heart of the
disqualification complaint. The negative stigma that equates welfare dependency with social failure would remain, fuelled as it is by well-entrenched public and political discourses. Welfare recipients, in sum, experience a distinct
harm of stigmatizationwhich cannot be reduced to any actual domination
they might also suffer.
Sociologist Robert Castel, for his part, has brought to light another process,
which he calls disaffiliation.52 Like disqualification, disaffiliation is brought
51
Paugams definition of social disqualification bears some similarities with Iris Youngs definition of oppression. In Justice and the Politics of Difference (1990:38), Young defines oppression
as a set of systematic institutional processes that prevent people from learning and using their
skills in socially recognised settings, or that inhibit their ability to play and communicate with
others or to express their feelings and perspectives on social life in contexts where others can
listen. In so far as it precludes self-realization and prevent people from forming a positive conception of themselves, oppression in Youngs sense and social disqualification produce similar
effects. The advantage of Paugams perspective however is that it provides a precise description
of the social mechanisms through which such effects are produced, when Youngs category of
oppression includes several different social processesnamely exploitation, marginalization,
powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence. If these processes increase peoples vulnerability by affecting the way in which they relate to themselves, we think it is best to distinguish them
if we are to define ways to overcome them.
52
Robert Castel, Les mtamorphoses de la question sociale. Une chronique du salariat
(Paris:Gallimard, 1999). See also the articles collected in Robert Castel, La monte des incerti
tudes. Travail, protections, statut de lindividu (Paris:Le Seuil, 2009).

R e l a t i o n a l E q u a l i t y, N o n - D o m i n a t i o n , a n d Vu l n e ra b i l i t y

63

about by unemployment. But it refers to a different process:the weakening and


loss of the social ties that protect individuals and secure what Castel calls the
supports of individuality. These supports are the resources that individuals
get from their integration in social groups and that enable them to become
autonomous agents. Castel argues that, in modern societies, social protection rests on two kinds of social relationships:the agents integration in a local
network of close relationships and her integration in a professional collective.
He then distinguishes four typical zones of integration/protection: integration (stable job and strong local network), welfare (dependency to welfare;
solid local network), vulnerability (insecure job and precarious local network), disaffiliation (unemployment and social isolation). Depending on the
economic and political contexts of the time, the zones shrink or expand, thus
determining the degree of cohesion of a society. Recently, the zone of social
vulnerability has expanded. While individualization has progressively weakened familial and local networks, contemporary societies face the rise of mass
unemployment as well as job insecurity. The conjunction of these evolutions
jeopardizes agents integration into stable networks and partly deprives them
of the social supports that are necessary to face the uncertainties of existence.
More and more people are drifting away, living from day to day and trying to
avoid plunging into poverty and isolation when an unexpected event happens.
Disaffiliation, understood as the weakening of the social ties that secure
agents integration and give them the necessary resources to behave autonomously, is irreducible and even unconnected to domination in Pettits sense.
Republicans such as Pettit have advocated robust policies of social welfare and
distribution, but they have done so on the ground that lack of basic resources
makes individuals vulnerable to domination. Yet a disaffiliated individual is
not primarily or essentially vulnerable to the domination of others (although
of course she may be). She is, instead, vulnerable to social marginalization.
There is a distinct and autonomous pathology of social relationships of interdependence, grounded on the denial of interdependence and the weakening of
social ties, rather than the exercise of arbitrary power.
In his advocacy of the republican ideal, Pettit suggests that the domination
complaint is central to the claims of many contemporary social movements.
He argues that republicanism provides an accurate language to describe the
social experiences these social movements articulate and criticize. For Pettit,
the relevance of political theory partly depends on its capacity to grasp social
agents experience and to provide standards to make sense of it, criticize it and
transform it, if necessaryan idea that is also at the heart of critical theory.
In Pettits case, however, the argument is double-edged. He is right to say that
the domination complaint is echoed in a wide range of social movements that

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struggle for more equality. But he is perhaps too quick in suggesting that it can
subsume all pathological forms of social interdependence. Or so at least we
have claimed in this essay. Because it is rooted in an anthropology of mutual
interdependence, republicanism can account for the fact that people are fundamentally vulnerable and justify that political theory gives central importance to peoples relationships to one another. By showing that fundamental
vulnerability is unequally increased and autonomy unequally jeopardized
by social and political relationships of domination, it provides a ground for
the promotion of freedom as non-domination as well as detailed political and
institutional recommendations to do so. However, the republican concept of
domination may not be strong enough to do all the work that Pettit would like
it to doparticularly if it remains narrowly agential and thereby ill-equipped
to capture more structural forms of domination, oppression and social marginalization. In so far as not all problematic vulnerabilities are the product of
domination in Pettits sense, a republicanism of non-domination may not be
sufficient to create a society of equals.

Acknowledgments
We are grateful to the editors of this volume, particularly Fabian Schuppert,
for helpful comments on an earlier version of this piece.

Conceptions and Dimensions of


Social Equality
John Baker

3.1Introduction
The central aims of this essay are to identify three importantly distinct
dimensions of social equality and to argue that for each of these dimensions there are different conceptions of equalityin particular a difference
between what I will call liberal egalitarian conceptions and radical egalitarianism or equality of condition. Although the main point of the essay is
to map out the terrain, Ido not pretend to do so in a neutral manner. My
commitment is to equality of condition, and Ihope that the essay will make
this conception of social equality plausible. Iam not always confident about
the best way of articulating that conception, so in some places Iam more
interested in raising questions than in providing answers.
I take social equality to be concerned with the question of what it means
for us to relate to each other as equals. Social equality in this sense can
also be called relational equality and can be contrasted with the idea of
distributive justice or distributional equality. Unlike some theorists, I do
not believe that social or relational equality is more important than distributional equality or is the root of distributional equality, although nothing I say here hangs on the issue. Similarly, I doubt that everything that
is desirable about social equality is a matter of justice; Iam not even sure
whether any of it is. But that is not something Iwill discuss here. Ido think
that social equality is a very important part of egalitarianism, and always
has been. But I also think that social equality is sometimes too narrowly
defined, and that there are importantly different visions of social equality
that are not always distinguished.
65

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The ideas here connect in many ways with the work of others.1 But for the
most part, my aim is to contribute to egalitarian ideas and social change rather
than to academic literature, trying more to articulate the values and commitments that inform an important and long-standing social movement for equality than to say anything new. Imake no claim to originality.
The three dimensions of social equality I want to distinguish here
are:respect and recognition; love, care, and solidarity; and power. 2 Ibelieve
that we relate to each other as equals only if we engage with each other in
a spirit of equal respect; if we relate to each other in appropriately loving,
careful, and solidary ways; and if we replace the exercise of power over one
another by relationships of genuine cooperation. Each of these dimensions of
social equality seems to me to have quite a different character from the other
two, andperhaps more importantlyto be open to weaker and stronger
interpretations. In todays very unequal world, even the set of weaker interpretations that Icharacterize as liberal-egalitarian implies the need for significant social change, but it still seems to me to be more concerned with limiting
and justifying inequality than with imagining what it would mean to do away
with inequality altogether. In the field of distributive justice, Rawlss difference principle is a paradigm case of this liberal egalitarian approach, since it
is expressly concerned with legitimating inequalities of income and wealth.
By contrast, this essay is largely preoccupied with trying to imagine the radically egalitarian alternative that Icall equality of condition, which aspires to
a radically more equal set of social relations as well as radically more equal
distributions. It is, of course, a truism of egalitarian theory that equality in
any respect entails inequality in some other respects, so my aim here should
not be construed as imagining a world without any inequalities at all. It is,
rather, to show how an admittedly ambitious desire to ameliorate inequality in
each of these dimensions might be superseded by a more robust aspiration to
eliminate inequality of the same general type, or at least to reduce inequality
much more dramatically than is generally proposed. 3

1
Iam sure Ihave forgotten the sources for many of them and would see even more connections to other peoples work if I were better at keeping up with the ever-growing literature in
egalitarian theory.
2
For a discussion of the five-dimensional conceptual framework from which these ideas are
drawn, see John Baker, Equality:What, Who, Where? Imprints 9, no. 1 (2006):2941 and John
Baker et al., Equality: From Theory to Action, 2nd ed. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Iconcentrate on these three dimensions because Icannot identify a relational component in the other two.
3
The contrast between liberal egalitarianism and equality of condition is therefore, strictly
speaking, between two regions on a continuum rather than a sharp contrast between legitimate
inequality and strict equality. But Ihope that what follows will demonstrate that the contrast is
still worth making.

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I proceed by considering each dimension of social equality in turn. In each


case, Istart with a general introduction to the concepts before distinguishing
relational concerns from closely-connected distributional ones. Ithen go on to
contrast liberal-egalitarian understandings from those that might characterize
equality of condition, trying to make the latter as plausible as Ican.
One might well wonder why, in our deeply unjust world, one should care
about the difference between more and less radical conceptions of equality,
since liberal egalitarianism itself is such a challenge to the existing order.
Although Icannot answer that question fully here, Iwould suggest that egalitarianism is not just about setting long-term political objectives but about how
each of us, here and now, should aspire to relate to others. Those aspirations
can be easily thwarted by our own inadequacies and by structural barriers, but
how we envisage our relations to each other nevertheless confronts us with
real choices in our present lives and can shape our political practices. So the
question of how, as egalitarians, we should treat each other is not just a question for some future utopia but a question for here and now, in both large- and
small-scale settings, as well as a way of attempting to prefigure what an egalitarian world might look like.

3.2 Respect and Recognition


For political philosophers, equal respect is the most familiar and most extensively theorized species of social equality. The idea of recognition is of more
recent vintage, but has close affinities with the idea of respect. Rather than try
to summarize such a complex literature here,4 Isimply stipulate that respect is
the more generic term, concerned with any of the ways that someone may be
viewed as either superior, equal, or inferior in value, while recognition has to
do with how respect and disrespect are shaped by peoples social affiliations.
So if my negative attitude toward you is based on your being gay, or Jewish,
or what is generally referred to as black,5 it is also a case of misrecognition,
whereas if my contempt for you is based on some action of yours that Iconsider
despicable, it may not be. Unequal recognition is therefore closely connected

4
For an excellent survey, see Robin S. Dillon, Respect, The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition) (2010), accessed January 30, 2014, http://plato.stanford.edu/
archives/fall2010/entries/respect/.
5
For a powerful argument against the use of black as a human category, see Nicholas Tsri,
Africans Are Not Black:The Case for Conceptual Liberation (PhD diss., University College
Dublin, 2013).

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with the relative standing of different social groups or categories. It is because


respect is the more general concept that Iconcentrate on it here.6
The basic principle of social or relational equality is that we should respect
each other as equals. But before pursuing that further, it is worth pointing out
that there are also distributional principles of respect and recognition, which
might be put this way:that everyone ought to receive an equal degree of respect
and recognition, or perhaps a sufficient amount; and that everyone ought to
be equally, or adequately, able to give respect and recognition to others.7 The
inequalities at stake in these principles are about how one persons situation
compares with that of another, rather than how people should treat each other,
though the two are obviously connected. For someone who thinks that all that
ultimately matters is peoples well-being and its distribution, respect and recognition matter because being respected and being able to show respect are
components of, or contribute to, well-being. The relation of respect is important only because of its effects on well-being. For others, the relation of respect
has value independently of these effects. Indeed, it might be argued that we
cannot make sense of the importance of respect for well-being without claiming that it is independently important, since it is that importance that explains
why it is good for us. My own inclination is towards the latter position, but Iam
not sure there is a compelling argument for it.8
Focusing, in any case, on the relation of respect, it seems to me that the most
interesting issue for egalitarians has to do with the distinction between what
6
Th is way of distinguishing recognition from respect seems to me closest to ordinary usage,
and is similar to the conceptualization taken by Fraser (Nancy Fraser, Justice Interruptus:Critical
Reflections on the Post-Socialist Condition (Princeton:Princeton University Press, 1997); Nancy
Fraser and Axel Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-Philosophical Exchange
(London: Verso, 2003)); and by most of the political discussions referencing Charles Taylor,
The Politics of Recognition, in Multiculturalism:Examining the Politics of Recognition, ed. Amy
Gutmann (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994): 2573, though not by Taylor himself. Honneth uses the term more expansively, to cover a range of relations including respect,
esteem, love and solidarity:Fraser and Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition?; Axel Honneth,
The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts, trans. Joel Anderson
(Cambridge:Polity Press, 1995). Hence the importance for present purposes of stipulating what
Imean.
7
Young claims that it is a mistake even to talk about the distribution of things like respect
and power because it reifies social relations, ignores process and structure, fixates on patterns of
distribution, and neglects the diffused nature of power (Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics
of Difference (Princeton:Princeton University Press, 1990), ch. 1). But none of these criticisms
shows that it is unimportant for each persons well-being whether they are or are not respected,
are or are not able to respect others, or are better or worse off than others in these aspects of their
lives. That is what a distributional principle is concerned with.
8
For some powerful arguments on its behalf, see Christian Schemmel, Distributive and
Relational Equality, Politics, Philosophy & Economics 11, no. 2 (2012):123148, esp.140141.

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are sometimes treated as different kinds or senses of respect, which Iwill refer
to as basic respect and appraisal respect or esteem. It is taken for granted
in contemporary culture and philosophy that in some sense everyone is of
equal worth, has equal status, deserves equal respect, and should be respected
as an equaldifferent ways of formulating the same or at least closely related
ideas about equal basic respect. But it is also taken for granted by most people
that this type of equality is compatible with inequalities of worth, status, and
respecta kind of respect that has been called evaluative or appraisal or
merit respect and that is closely linked to the concepts of esteem, admiration, and honor. In sum, we should (basic-)respect each other equally, but it is
fine to esteem some people much more than others. For example, a school may
be dedicated to a policy of mutual respect, but that is not usually considered to
be incompatible with a powerful social hierarchy among its students.9
These two concepts are typically taken to be relatively but not completely
independent:the sense in which everyone is due equal basic respect seems
to imply some restrictions on inequalities of esteem but not to be deeply
at odds with them. For example, equal basic respect plausibly entails a ban
on treatment that is particularly degrading; a prohibition on using certain
types of characteristic (such as sex, ethnicity, and disability) as grounds for
depreciation; and the elimination of certain types of practices and institutions that embody permanent inequalities of esteem (e.g., slavery, segregation, hereditary nobility). To evaluate someone, however unequally, within
these constraints is generally considered to be consistent with respecting
them as an equal, while to transgress the constraints is to treat them with
disrespect in that first, basic sense. What we are left with is a distribution of
respect that is quite typical of liberal egalitarianism:a floor of basic respect
below which no one should fall and a system of fair inequality of esteem
based on merit and regulated by a commitment to equal opportunities for
attaining high esteem.
An obvious question that arises from this way of looking at respect is
whether there is a radical alternative to liberal egalitarianism:one that seeks
to eliminate, or at least to place much more severe constraints on, inequality
of esteem. That might seem to be too absurd even to be contemplated. For
example, Dillon remarks that It is obvious that we could not owe every individual evaluative respect, letalone equal evaluative respect, since not everyone
acts morally correctly or has an equally morally good character.10 Similarly,
9A good example is Brown Middle School, Student Planner 20121013, (Madison,
CT: Brown Middle School, 2012). For further discussion of the distinction, see Stephen
L.Darwall, Two Kinds of Respect, Ethics 88, no. 1 (1977):3649 and Dillon, Respect.
10
Dillon, Respect.

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McBride claims that esteem recognition is necessarily unequal.11 I would


like to suggest, however, that a radically egalitarian objective of nearly equal
esteemI am not endorsing strictly equal esteemhas much more to be said
for it, but that it entails both a radical change of perspective and a wider program of social transformation.
When we make judgments of appraisal respect or esteem, we are relying
both on our own standards of evaluation and on the characteristics of the person who is the object of our evaluation. When we esteem or disesteem a per
son, we are taking those characteristics to be so intimately bound up with that
person that we cannot plausibly distinguish the two. Some critical reflection
on these features of esteem can generate quite a lot of movement toward a radically egalitarian ideal of severely compressed inequality of esteem.
Perhaps the most important thing one might say on behalf of such an ideal
is that the inequality of our esteem for others depends on the breadth and
generosity of our own evaluative standards. A society in which people have
a broad, expansive, and generous appreciation of diversity obviously presents
fewer obstacles to relationships of equal esteem than one in which people
have narrower views. Quite a lot of the movement towards greater equality of
esteem in our own times has been based on a greater acceptance, appreciation
and, indeed, celebration of diversity. This is not simply the toleration of people
of whom we deeply disapprove, but a widespread social revaluation of people
who used to be disapproved of and are now socially accepted. These revaluations have mostly resulted from on-going struggles for recognition related to a
wide range of social factors including gender, disability, ethnicity, age, sexual
orientation, social class, migration, and religion.12 To represent these changes
of status simply as cases of basic respect would be to neglect the very important processes of revaluation that have made them possible.
Of course, not every social difference is a fit basis for revaluation. Many people are now as accepting of same-sex relationships as of heterosexual ones, but

Cillian McBride, Demanding Recognition: Equality, Respect, and Esteem, European


Journal of Political Theory 8, no. 1 (2009):96108, 101.
12
These struggles are particularly associated with what used to be called new social movements and are discussed by many authors including Manuel Castells, The Power of Identity
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1997); Fraser, Justice Interruptus; Fraser and Honneth, Redistribution or
Recognition?; Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition; Hanspeter Kriesi et al., eds., New Social
Movements in Western Europe: A Comparative Analysis (London: UCL Press,1995); Richard
Rorty, Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1998); Sylvia Walby, From Community to Coalition: The
Politics of Recognition as the Handmaiden to the Politics of Equality in an Era of Globalization,
Theory, Culture and Society 18, no. 23 (2001): 113135 and Young, Justice and the Politics of
Difference.
11

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there are other forms of sexual relationship that most people continue to find
objectionable, such as pedophilia. More generally, so long as any of us have
any moral standards at allincluding egalitarian standardswe will approve
of some peoples behavior and disapprove of others. To what extent will those
approvals and disapprovals inevitably justify inequality of esteem?
The first point one might make is that there is a distinction between approving of a persons behavior, accomplishments, or abilities and esteeming that
person. Conversely, we can distinguish between finding someones beliefs,
commitments, and actions objectionable or even reprehensible and disrespecting that person. One might put it this way:that even if Ireject everything
you stand for, Ican show you equal respect as a person by taking your values
and commitments seriously, and seeing you as someone with whom it is worth
disagreeing. Of course, that also means that Ido not see myself as superior to
you, even if Ithink that what Ibelieve and care about is more worthwhile than
what you believe and care about.
I can foresee at least two objections to this line of thinking. First, it might be
objected that it simply reverts to basic respect, because it elucidates what it is
to relate to someone as a person. There is some truth in the objection, because
it helps to specify what is involved in that first sense of respectto insist that
there is a way that people can engage with each other as equals that is neither
restricted to mutual tolerance nor insists on the uncritical celebration of difference, but involves mutual engagement.13 But it also helps to erode the grounds
on which one might make judgments of esteem, by emphasizing the distinction between people and their attributes.
The second objection focuses precisely on that distinction, by protesting
that this way of thinking relies on unacceptably distancing people from their
beliefs, commitments, character traits, etc. Surely these are part of what we
are? So if you are gay, for example, you might take little comfort from my saying
that Ihave complete respect for you but that Ithink that being gay is disgusting and sinful. That is precisely why the revaluations Ihave already referred
toof gender, disability, ethnicity, etc.are so important. But even if some
characteristics have this kind of inseparability from the person, many do not.
It is not a depreciation of you for me to say that Idisagree with your politics, or
think your lectures are boring, or even that you behaved disgracefully the last
time we met. Or at least not necessarilythat depends both on my capacity
and willingness to distinguish between you and these characteristics, and on
yours, and that distinction is itself either impeded or facilitated by the culture
in which we live. If it is true that modern cultures make a stronger distinction

In Baker etal., Equality, 35, we refer to this approach as critical interculturalism.

13

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between persons and their attributes than traditional cultures, that creates
more scope for greater equality of esteem.
A related point is that holding a person in high regard, as distinct from their
particular characteristics and actions, is to make a holistic judgment about
them that we are rarely in a position to make. When one thinks of prominent figures in the history of struggles for equality, for example, all one typically knows about them are their salient achievements. What often emerges
on closer inspection is that they had a similar mixture of virtues and vices to
those of ordinary mortals. Iam not suggesting that no one is really better than
anyone else, only that the differences do not justify the degree of inequality of
esteem that they are typically thought to call for.
An additional factor that supports radically egalitarian esteem is an appreciation of the role of luck in human affairs and a corresponding modesty about
peoples responsibility for their own accomplishments. It is easier to avoid the
transition from admiring someones achievements to giving that person a high
status if one acknowledges the combination of contingent circumstances that
goes into shaping anyones life. It is not that no one is responsible for anything,
but that what people can be held responsible for is just a fragment of what they
actually do.
When we look at the status inequalities in most societies, it is also obvious
that the opportunities for and obstacles against achieving esteemed characteristics are themselves unequally distributed. The dominant evaluative standards in any society are those set by the privileged; their social position gives
them and their families privileged access to the means for achieving success
according to these standards. So the ideal of reducing inequalities of esteem
is closely related to the ideal of reducing inequality more generally, with the
effect of democratizingand thereby diversifyingevaluative standards as
well as making the opportunities to live up to them more equal. To be most
fully realized, then, it requires a wider social transformation.
Taken together, these considerations seem to me to provide a lot of support
for a world with very restricted inequalities of appraisal respect and related
inequalities of honor and admiration, even if they do not do away with them
altogether. Nevertheless, Ialso think that it would be ungenerous to adhere
rigidly to the idea that no one deserves much more esteem than anyone else.
To respect and admire someoneeven if they do not fully deserve itcan
be an act of affirmation that is good for them and not necessarily harmful to
anyone else. And to disesteem someone who can justifiably be held responsible for a feature that it is impossible to separate from them as a person, such
as a central character trait, can be seen as a necessary consequence of treating them with basic respect. What seems to me to be particularly harmful is
when inequalities of respect and esteem become so large that they damage the

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self-esteem of others and help to legitimate other inequalities. My argument is


that there is much more scope for confining these inequalities of esteem than
one might think.14
To conclude this section: One familiar dimension of social equality is
equality of respect. But although there is a modern consensus that everyone
should be respected as equals in some sense (basic respect), it is just as common to believe that people deserve very unequal respect in some other sense
(appraisal respect or esteem). Ihave tried to make plausible a radically egalitarian alternative to that commonsense view.

3.3 Love, Care, and Solidarity


The feminist movement is one of the key egalitarian movements of our times.
Among its many contributions to egalitarian thinking is the spotlight it has
shone on love and care as human relationships. These relationships are just
as important for how peoples lives go as the material resources stressed by
traditional theories of justice, so it should strike us as astonishing that egalitarian theory has had so little to say about them. Part of the reason, no doubt,
is that love and care are traditionally associated with femininity and that
the hard work that goes into providing them is done disproportionately by
women. Those are further reasons why egalitarians should take love and care
seriously.15
Once one puts love and care on the agenda of egalitarian theory, it is useful to think of them as belonging to a family of concepts. Love is primarily
concerned with intimate personal relationships. Care has a wider range; for
sure, we should and usually do care for the people we love, but caring relationships extend into other fieldsto the mutual care of friends and neighbors; to
both the informal and professional care of children, older people, and infirm
people; to the relationships of mutual care that may or may not develop among
colleagues in a workplace or activists in a campaign or members of a club. By
contrast, we can think of solidarity as a relationship towards people who are
for the most part strangers, but whom one still cares about and is willing to act
on behalf of. As already implied, Itake it that these relationships of love, care,

14
Lurking behind the idea of unequal esteem is the idea of desert. Some of the lines of argument in this section mirror those about desert in Chapter7 of John Baker, Arguing for Equality
(London:Verso, 1987).
15
For an interdisciplinary investigation of these issues to which the present essay is indebted,
see Kathleen Lynch et al., Affective Equality: Love, Care and Injustice (Basingstoke: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2009).

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and solidarity typically involve both an emotional attachment to or orientation


towards others and a willingness to act in ways that respond to their needs.
Love, care, and solidarity are on the positive side of a spectrum that includes
more or less corresponding negative relationships like hatred, neglect, animosity, abuse, and violence. It could be useful to attempt a systematic taxonomy of
this family of concepts, but for present purposes its character should be clear
enough. Iwill use the term affective relationships to refer to this whole field
of positive and negative interpersonal relations.16
As with respect, we can formulate distributional principles for love, care,
and solidaritythat everyone should receive equal, or perhaps adequate,
love, care, and solidarity and that everyone should be equally, or adequately,
enabled to give love, care, and solidarity to others. In her seminal treatment of
the importance of love and care for justice, Kittay formulates a third principle
of justice in a Rawlsian vein as follows:
To each according to his or her need for care, from each according
to his or her capacity to care, and such support from social institutions as to make available resources and opportunities to those providing care, so that all will be adequately attended in relations that are
sustaining.17
This principle treats love and care, as well as the resources necessary to sustain
them, as goods that should be justly distributed.18
But since love, care, and solidarity are relations, the question arises of
whether there are also strictly relational principles that apply to them and can
be construed as egalitarian. In the case of respect, principles of equality call for
us to treat each other in respectful ways; the parallel here would be an obligation to treat each other in loving, caring, and solidary ways, and not to hate,
neglect, or abuse each other. But that suggestion raises interesting complications. To start with the most obvious issue, it is clear enough that since we
cannot have intimate relationships with everyone, we cannot be expected to
love everyone, either. Care has a wider scope, but it still seems to be limited
to direct, person-to-person relationships. Or, if one wants to insist that we can
also care about strangersthe relationship that Iam calling solidaritythen
Affective is not wholly satisfactory because of its other meanings, but Ifollow the choice
made in Lynch etal., Affective Equality.
17
Eva Feder Kittay, Loves Labor: Essays on Women, Equality, and Dependency
(NewYork:Routledge, 1999), 113.
18
I nsofar as love and care are thought of distributionally, the question arises of whether people who lack love and care could be compensated materially. That question is too far away from
the topic of this essay to be pursued here.
16

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one still has to acknowledge important differences between this type of caring
and the care of people with whom we have face-to-face relationships. So the relevant principles here seem to be context-dependent:that we should love our intimates, care about and for those with whom we have direct personal relationships,
and maintain a different kind of care for or solidarity with others. Even that way
of putting it is probably too general, since the kinds of love, care, and solidarity
that are appropriate to our diverse relationships are variable and contestable. For
example, there are different conceptions of the kinds of love appropriate between
spouses; there are important differences between the kinds of love people have
for their partners, their parents, and their children; the care that parents owe to
their children is different from the care teachers owe to their students; and so on.
The idea that we should love or care about others may seem problematic. Love
and care involve emotions, and emotions are often beyond our control:can we
really be prescriptive about them? Ithink a number of interconnected replies are
in order. First of all, one might take issue with the ought/can assumption here,
and say, for example, that parents really ought to love their children, regardless
of whether they find themselves able to do so. Perhaps they should not always be
blamed for not loving them, but it is still desirable that they do. One reason for
insisting on this point has a more general application within egalitarianismit
is that unless we can be free to imagine the desirable independently of its apparent feasibility, we are likely to err on the side of caution and to be hidebound by
what currently passes as common sense. Arelated point is that the incapacity of
people to have the love, care, and solidarity that they ought to have can result
from social forces that it is possible to change. So the inability of some people in
some circumstances to love or care for others can point us towards the need to
change social practices and structuresgendered practices of upbringing, for
example, and living and working conditions that drain people of their capacity
for love. It is also worth noting that the context-dependent character of these
relational principles gives them an interesting logic:if you are a teacher, you
should care about your students implies if you dont care about your students,
you shouldnt be a teacher. So even if we cannot find ways of ensuring that particular teachers care about their students, we could try to find ways for teachers
who do not care about their students to do something else for a living. Nothing
that Ihave said here entails forcing anyone to love or care for anyone else, even if
that were possible. It is about how people should act toward others, as appropriate
to the different contexts in which they encounter them.19
I n this respect, my view is not illiberally coercive, though Iacknowledge that every social
ethos constrains peoples freedom (cf. Paula Casal, Occupational Choice and the Egalitarian
Ethos, Economics and Philosophy 29, no. 1 (2013):320). Whether it is illiberally perfectionist is
too complex an issue to pursue here.
19

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In the case of respect and recognition, Iargued for a difference between liberal egalitarian and radical egalitarian conceptions of equal respect. Is there a
comparable issue here? One thing that makes this dimension of social equality
different is that affective relationships do not figure within the liberal tradition with anything like the prominence of the idea of respect. The love of intimates is typically considered to be a private matter, as is the importance of care
insofar as it relates to familial relationships. In a brief discussion of fraternity
(which Itake to be more or less the same as solidarity), Rawls acknowledges
its place in the liberal tradition, and links it to the difference principle, in the
course of which he comments:
The ideal of fraternity is sometimes thought to involve ties of sentiment and feeling which it is unrealistic to expect between members
of the wider society. And this is surely a further reason for its relative
neglect in democratic theory.20
By interpreting fraternity as the idea of not wanting to have greater advantages unless this is to the benefit of others who are less well off,21 he rids it of
that emotionality, and thereby, in my view, eviscerates it.
So liberal egalitarianism seems to have a problem with love, care, and
solidarity, and particularly with their emotionality. If we dig a bit deeper,
however, and if we attend to the actual practice of liberal democracies and to
the spirit of liberal feminism, we might discern elements of a liberal egalitarian position on affective relationships. For example, there is legislation in
many jurisdictions against the abuse of vulnerable people, particularly children and people in institutional care; hate speech is widely prohibited; the
decriminalization of same-sex relationships, and the extension of marriage
law to include them, are often premised on claims about love; provisions
for parental leave, child care, and family-friendly employment all recognize
the importance of care responsibilities. All of these seem to belong to a liberal egalitarian perspective on love and care because, distributionally, they
aim to secure certain basic rights and protections in affective relationships,
while, relationally, they call on us to show at least minimal care for others;
they otherwise leave room for considerable inequalities. One way of theorizing this perspective is Nussbaums inclusion of emotions (which includes
being able to love) and affiliation (which includes being able to show
concern, have compassion, and engage in friendship) in her list of central

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, revised ed. (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1999), 9091.
Ibid.

20
21

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capabilities. 22 According to Nussbaum, everyone is entitled to the threshold


levels of capability they need for a truly human life. Note that this is a distributional, sufficientarian principle about what people should be able to do,
not a strictly relational principle about how people should treat each other.
But it implies that many people will engage in affective relations and that it
is good for them to do so. In line with the capability approach in general, it
is a principle of equal opportunity: it insists on peoples right to relationships, not their duty to engage in them. So it has familiar liberal egalitarian
features.
What is the radically egalitarian alternative to this position? Perhaps the
most logical place to start is at the level that applies to our affective relationships with all other people, most of whom are strangers. Aplausible egalitarian
view here has affinities with one found in the work of many liberal thinkers,
namely that we should care equally about the lives of all other people. That is,
after all, the fundamental presupposition of utilitarianism, which has in this
respect an egalitarian outlook. Of course, nearly all versions of utilitarianism
combine the view that we should in some sense care equally about all human
beings with the belief that it is perfectly fine for people to care more about
their family, friends, and compatriots. That combination of views seems strikingly similar to the ideas of respect discussed earlier and might lead one to
thinking that a truly radical egalitarianism would reject it. But if the distinction between love, care, and solidarity is sound, then it entails that we could
not have equal relations of care for everyone except by reducing all such relations to the type we have with strangers. That would be an impoverished vision
of affective relationships. Amore promising proposal for a radically egalitarian conception of solidarity is to hold that in our relations with strangers, we
should not distinguish, or at least not distinguish very sharply, between different groups of strangers, in particular between those with whom we are culturally or politically affiliated and those with whom we are not. A truly global
solidarity is according to this view a more defensible position than a nationalist one. This model of global solidarity has been part of (at least) the rhetoric of
radical politics for a long time.
Turning to care, the radically egalitarian distributional position seems to
be what Fraser calls the universal caregiver model, i.e. that caring for others
should be shared by everyone, not confined to some subset of the population
and particularly not overwhelmingly to women. 23 As Fraser shows, a strong
22
Martha C. Nussbaum, Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach
(Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2000); Martha C.Nussbaum, Creating Capabilities:The
Human Development Approach (Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press, 2011).
23
Nancy Fraser, After the Family Wage: Gender Equity and the Welfare State, Political
Theory 22, no. 4 (1994):591698; Fraser, Justice Interruptus.

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case for this view can be made on the basis of principles of gender equity. 24
What interests me here is whether the universal caregiver model can also be
understood as a radically egalitarian interpretation of social equality. Since
care-giving in this sense is by definition confined to face-to-face relationships,
it is not a case of every person caring for every other. But it seems to me that
there are at least two ways in which universal care-giving represents a form of
social equality. First, it constitutes a model of what egalitarian relationships
should look like precisely among people who do have face-to-face personal
relationships. Arelationship of care is a way of attending to the needs of those
one cares for and of trying to ensure that those needs are met. It is, Ithink,
only rarely that this involves a caregiver trying to meetall those needs on their
own. Rather, it belongs to their role as caregiver to try to get a good grasp of
the care recipients needs and of the ways they can best contribute to meeting
those needs in the context of a web of caring relationships. There is therefore a
genuine sense in which, in caring relationships, caregivers treat care recipients
as equals whose needs and interests are just as important as their own, even if
they are not obliged to give equal weight to those interests in their everyday
decisions. For example, if Itry to have a caring relationship with the people
Iwork with, that does not entail my taking on the task of trying to satisfy all
their various needs, but it does entail my engagement with and response to the
needs they have in the workplace andinsofar as Iam aware of themadjusting that response to their wider circumstances.
This leads to the second way that universal care-giving represents a form of
social equality. It is that in a society where each person is connected to many
others through relationships of care, and in which each of us has a political
commitment to sustaining those relationships, we approximate a society in
which each of us is in a relationship of reciprocal care with everyone else. The
form of reciprocity here is what Sahlins calls generalized reciprocity in contrast to balanced reciprocity.25 It does not involve reciprocal care in each
caregiver/care recipient relationshipthough that may be a widespread patternbut a general system of relationships through which each caregiver also
receives care from others:for instance, a society in which each of us over the
course of our lives will have received care, as children, and have given care to
other children in return. That seems to me to constitute an egalitarian model
of social equality in the field of care.
A similar line of thought can be applied to love. As with care, only more
emphatically so, our loving relationships are necessarily limited to our closest
Fraser, Justice Interruptus, 44. She wrongly, in my view, construes equality as meaning
treating women exactly like men (ibid.).
25
Marshall D.Sahlins, Stone Age Economics (NewYork:Aldine de Gruyter, 1972).
24

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connections. Love is, in this respect, a focused and exclusive relationship that
occurs within small, intimate settings. But it seems plausible to suggest that in
a society of equals, everyone would have some loving relationships and everyones needs for loving relationships would be satisfied. Expressed in that way,
it is a principle of distributional equality (or at least of sufficiency). But what
does that have to do with relational equality? Iwould suggest that it is within
at least some instances of love that we engage most deeply with the full humanity of others and truly identify with their needs as much as if they were our
own. There are, of course, many forms of love, some of which are far removed
from the type Ihave been describing, and there are many better ways of exploring and analyzing them than in the language of political theory. But if certain
types of loving relationship are in some contexts and in some ways paradigm
cases of treating someone as an equal, then it behooves egalitarians to aspire
to such relationships in their own lives and to encourage them in the lives of
others.26 Asociety in which everyone is involved in such relationships, as well
as in the caring and solidary relationships that play such an important role in
nurturing them, could be characterized as truly egalitarian.
We have noted that deeply unequal societies generate deeply unequal
opportunities for achieving esteem; they also generate deeply unequal opportunities for engaging in affective relationships. It follows that if we aspire to
a world in which everyone is both the giver and recipient of love, care, and
solidarity, we need to join that aspiration to a broader egalitarian program of
social transformation. In any society, however, some of us are likely to have
better luck in our affective relationships than others. As Gheaus argues, that
is a form of luck that it may be impossible or undesirable ever to fully rectify.
But it does suggest that those who have been fortunate in this respect have a
particular obligation to love and care for others.27
In summary, this section has been devoted to relations of love, care, and
solidarity as a distinct dimension of social equality. Ihave argued that just as
egalitarians should be concerned with treating others with respect, so they
should be concerned with relating to others with love, care, and solidarity.
Ihave tried to sketch out one plausible liberal egalitarian interpretation of this
idea and to contrast it with a more thorough-going vision of a network of loving, caring, and solidary relationships, which Ihave tried to characterize as
In The Subjection of Women, Mill extols an egalitarian relationship as the ideal of marriage
(John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women, in On Liberty and Other Essays, ed. John Gray
(Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1991):469582, 575). This ideal goes beyond the one Iam
speaking of here, which is defined by ones deep commitment to the others needs, but it is an
interesting example of how egalitarian thinking about married love could be developed.
27
Anca Gheaus, How Much of What Matters Can We Redistribute? Love, Justice, and Luck,
Hypatia 24, no. 4 (2009):6383.
26

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egalitarian. Is this a vision of radical equality? It is certainly more strongly


committed to love, care, and solidarity than the liberal egalitarian alternative.
In many ways, Ihave simply reformulated within the frame of egalitarianism
many of the ideas found in the ethics of care. Ihope that Ihave therefore also
indicated a way that these two outlooks converge.

3.4Power
There is a third type of social relationship that has always been important in
political theory but is not always talked about in the context of egalitarianism,
namely relations of power. In particular, the exercise of power by one person or
group over another is clearly an unequal relationship. Since social equality is
sometimes contrasted with political equality, and political equality is sometimes defined in terms of power, one might well ask if social equality really
includes power relations. But if we conceptualize social equality in the broad
sense of relational equality, and if we also recognize that power relations occur
throughout our social relationships and not just in the sphere of life usually
referred to as politics, then it makes sense to take power as constituting a third
dimension of social equality.
In the academic literature on power, power over is often contrasted with
power to and the relationship between them has been theorized in various
ways. For present purposes, I take these to be relatively clear intuitively
and relatively distinct, and try not to premise the discussion on a particular
theory of power. Power over is closely connected in ordinary language and
in academic analysis with a family of concepts including domination and
subordination; some of these concepts are employed below where it seems
appropriate to do so. Although an egalitarian approach to power relations will
necessarily start from a consideration of power over, the idea of power to turns
out to be relevant, too. 28
As with other relationships, we can view power through a distributional lens
and define equality in terms of an equal distribution of power, or more modestly as guaranteeing an acceptable minimal set of powers or protections from
the power of others. For example, Rawls treats the powers and prerogatives of
office as a primary social good, the distribution of which should be governed
28
A nalytically, a case can be made for saying that power to is the generic concept since power
over is a power to get others to do things (Peter Morriss, Power: A Philosophical Analysis, 2nd
ed. (Manchester:Manchester University Press, 2002), 3235). But (as Morriss himself recognizes:xiiixiv) that does not make power over an unimportant category of power, empirically or
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by the difference principle. 29 It is interesting to note that these powers include


the powers of office-holders over their subordinates. Basic rights and liberties
can also be conceptualized as limiting the powers that some people have over
others (or, equivalently, as protecting peoples powers to speak, vote, etc.). If
we turn to theories of justice defined in terms of real freedom or capabilities,
it seems straightforward to rephrase them in terms of empowerment, i.e. the
distribution of peoples power to achieve their ends.
As a relationship, power typically involves power over, i.e. the ability of some
people to control the lives of others. Quite how to characterize this relationship is a matter of continuing theoretical debate: Lukes three-dimensional
account of the forms of power is a well-known typology. 30 But if power relations consist in some people controlling others, then it seems contradictory to
talk about egalitarian relations of power. Egalitarianism, one might imagine,
would consist of the absence of power relations altogether.
Within liberal egalitarianism, however, the picture is not so simple. In the
liberal tradition generally, power over others is taken as a necessary feature
of social life; what matters is whether this power is legitimate. Similarly, in
contemporary republican theory, the central normative distinction is between
power and what it calls domination, the latter being confined to arbitrary
power. 31 Both of these outlooks seem to have found ways of reconciling the
power of some people over others as an unequal relationship with a way of
thinking of the parties as somehow equally positionedone might say equally
empoweredin a different way, at a different level. So, as with respect, there is
a two-track approach that distinguishes between two different forms of power,
one of which is equal and one of which is not. Within the domain of justifiably
unequal power, these positions can be seen as maintaining a familiar combination of a basic minimum, constituted by basic rights and freedoms, and a commitment to the idea that positions of power over others should be open to all
under conditions of equal opportunity. They are also concerned with regulating the exercise of power, by limiting the powers attached to specific positions
and by making it accountable to various stakeholders.
Is there a radically egalitarian alternative to these liberal and republican
positions? Such a view would take seriously the idea of eliminating power over
altogether, and replacing it with relations of genuine cooperation. This seems
to be the obviously egalitarian way to structure relationships among friends,
29
John Rawls, Justice as Fairness:ARestatement (Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press,
2001), 5859.
30
Steven Lukes, Power:ARadical View, 2nd ed. (Basingstoke:Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
31
Frank Lovett, A General Theory of Domination and Justice (Oxford:Oxford University Press,
2010).

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or (to use Cohens example)32 people on a camping trip. Why shouldnt we


apply just as robust a conception of equality to larger groups with more complex relationships?
An initial objection to this conception of radical equality is to point out that
collective decisions often involve the resolution of conflicts in ways that suit
the preferences of some members of the group more than others. For example,
in a majoritarian democracy, the majority gets its way and the minority does
not. Isnt this the exercise of power by the majority over the minority? It is no
good objecting that there may be a consensus on the rules of the game that
represents an equal empowerment of all participantsthat is precisely the
two-track position that the purported radical egalitarianism aspires to supersede. What we need here is a genuine difference between a system of democratic decision-making that empowers the majority and disempowers the
minority and one where collective decisions can justifiably be characterized
as cooperative.
The idea of an inclusive, discursive, participatory democracy in which every
participant is committed to finding solutions that give equal weight to everyones needs and interests, and which uses nonmajoritarian voting procedures,
is at least an approximation to avoiding the crude power of the majority over
the minority. 33 Such a democracy would be closely connected to the relations
of respect and recognition and of love, care, and solidarity that we have already
discussed, because it is only in a context where people respect each other in
both senses of the word, and care about each others needs and interests, that
we could hope to establish the respectful, caring dialogue that underpins
truly collaborative decision-making, and prevents not just the overt exercise
of power by some over others, but also those other dimensions of power that
consist in the control of agendas and the manipulation of consciousness. 34
All of that is perhaps sufficient to dispel the idea that collective
decision-making in general is an exercise of power by some people over others.
But it might be objected that any complex system will inevitably contain roles
in which individuals are authorized to exercise power over others:legislators,
executive officers, managers, bureaucrats, judges, etc. These office-holders may
be democratically accountable to others, but that does not mean that they do
G. A.Cohen, Why Not Socialism? (Princeton:Princeton University Press, 2009).
For an elaboration of this position, see Baker etal., Equality, ch. 6.
34
Drawing on Mark Haugaard, Rethinking the Four Dimensions of Power: Domination
and Empowerment, Journal of Political Power 5, no. 1 (2012):3354, one might argue that even
these cooperative forms of action require power over in some ways, e.g. the exclusion from agendas of certain kinds of alternative and a general belief in the rules of the game. But to classify
these as cases of power over is to my mind misleading, if the exclusions and beliefs are genuinely
consensual.
32

33

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not have power over them. Aradically egalitarian response to this objection
cannot be merely the theoretical sleight of hand that insists that any form of
democratic accountability is tantamount to powerlessness; it has to be based
on a substantial difference between different understandings and practices of
accountability rooted in different political principles. For a radical egalitarian
a radical participatory democratthe issue is whether office-holders are genuinely the agents of a democratic public and subject to their will. If so, then there
is a circuit of power through which the power of the office-holder over citizens
is counterbalanced by the power of citizens over office-holders as two sides of
a cooperative relationship, and the role of office is construed as one of coordination rather than domination. There is nothing particularly novel in this
thought: it is a common theme in the tradition of participatory democracy,
though one that could be more thoroughly elaborated. 35 The central issues it
throws up are those of institutional design:issues that, in my view, cannot be
resolved simply by means of the formal rules by which democracies operate,
but require an appropriate ethos among their participants. More particularly,
whats necessary is a genuine commitment to cooperation, as well as the internalization by office-holders of the constraints of accountability, which itself
constitutes a form of societal power over them. 36 In such a democracy, the
powers and prerogatives of office would be seen as burdens of public service,
not as part of an individuals bundle of primary social goods. 37
For radical egalitarians, then, there are two closely connected models of
cooperation: one that involves strictly co-determined activity and one that
involves a degree of role specialization in which different participants power
over is counterbalanced by that of others through a combination of ethos and
procedures. But are these realistic? Perhaps it is a matter of scale. In some contexts, with some groups of people, it seems perfectly appropriate to aspire to
cooperative arrangements for making and implementing decisions, even if,
being imperfect beings, we cannot always live up to the aspiration. Iam thinking of various kinds of collectives including groups of friends, households,
workers cooperatives, academic departments and social movement organisations. Even if all we could achieve were a widespread radical democratization
of these localized sites, while failing to remove or counterbalance power over
For an interesting attempt to do so, see Deiric Broin, Participatory Democracy,
Representation and Accountability: Some Lessons from Irelands Community Sector (PhD
diss., University College Dublin, 2006).
36
Haugaard, Rethinking the Four Dimensions of Power:Domination and Empowerment.
37
A s Seamus Heaney writes:At their inauguration, public leaders / must swear to uphold
unwritten law and weep / to atone for their presumption to hold office. Seamus Heaney, From
the Republic of Conscience, in Opened Ground:Selected Poems 19661996 (London:Faber and
Faber, 2002):276277.
35

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in larger institutional settings, we would have brought about a revolutionary


transformation of many social relationships that would change our expectations more generally. In any case, although replicating these antihierarchical
relationships on a larger scale may seem unthinkable to us nowin a world
where peoples understandings of democracy are so attenuated, and one so
marked by relationships of contempt, abuse, and violence, as well as by massive
inequalities of resources and of opportunities for working and learningthe
lesson Idraw is that this type of social equality, like the others, has to be seen
as interdependent with other dimensions of equality, and as part of a more general social transformation.
At the other end of the continuum of scales are those small, micropolitical
contexts that consist of direct personal relationships, such as those between
parents and children, between care workers and dependents, between spouses
or partners, and between friends. For some of these there is a clear choice
between power over and pure co-determination. For others, like parents and
children, power relations are already much more complex than they look, not
just because children can exercise enormous power over their parents (as most
parents know from experience) but also because parents themselves can be
subject to and internalize sets of norms that constrain their power over their
children. 38 As with complex democracies, the radically egalitarian objective
here is to construct a circuit of power so that the power of parents and other
caregivers over children is counterbalanced by a social power over them, making their relationship with children a (roughly) cooperative one.
A world in which power over was eliminated or counterbalanced would at
the same time be a world in which peoples power to achieve their ends was
made much more equal. As a world based on cooperation rather than domination, their power relations with each other could also be described as power
with. That sort of collective exercise of power stands in stark contrast to the
idea of legitimate power over put forward by both liberals and republicans. As
Allen remarks, it is also closely related to the idea of solidarity. 39
I recognize that all of this may sound very starry-eyed, even (and perhaps
particularly) to those who have had real experience of attempts at cooperation. They know that people often fail to cooperate fully, leaving groups
with no choice but to violate their egalitarian principles, either by tolerating

For an empirical analysis of this complexity, see Lynch etal., Affective Equality, esp. ch. 6.
Amy Allen, Rethinking Power, Hypatia 13, no. 1 (1998):2140. Even if one conceded the
persistence of power over, it would still matter, Ithink, if some people were consistently dominant
and others subordinate. Afurther distinction between liberal and more radical forms of egalitarianism could therefore be drawn in terms of whether positions of power circulated among all of a
groups members or were merely subject to conditions of legitimacy.
38
39

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noncooperation or by punishing it. But Ibelieve that many of these problems


arise from attempting to establish prefigurative communities within deeply
unequal societies.40 My hypothesis is that the more experience people have
of nonhierarchical relationships, the less difficulty they have in maintaining
them. It is, however, sufficient for my purposes here to maintain that a radically egalitarian conception of power relations constitutes a distinct aspiration
from one that accepts power inequalities and seeks only to regulate them.
Overall, then, Ihave tried in this section to show that relations of power are
another important dimension of social egalitarianism; that there are nevertheless distinct conceptions of what equality means in the field of power; and that
a radically egalitarian conception of power can be both articulated and made
plausible. In some ways, this is the easiest of the three dimensions of radical
social equality to defend, because its ideas are familiar from the history of radical social movements and the theory of participatory democracy. In other ways
it is the hardest, because power relations are deeply embedded in institutional
practices.

3.5Conclusion
In this essay Ihave tried to show that social equality, understood as relational
equality, has at least three dimensionsrespect and recognition; love, care,
and solidarity; and power. In each case, the discussion has touched on some
common issues. First, there is a distinction between genuinely relational
equality and a closely related distributional equality. Second, there is a distinction between what Ihave called liberal egalitarian and radically egalitarian
visions of these relational equalities. Third, it is important to allow ourselves
to think freely about our aspirations for equality, and not to be confined by our
current impressions of feasibility. Fourth, social equality cannot be brought
about solely through formal procedures but also requires a change of ethos.
And finally, despite the distinction between dimensions of equality, there is
also an important unity, in that the realization of equality in any one dimension is interdependent with its realization in others. Throughout, Ihave tried
to distinguish the question of desirability from the question of compulsion,
and Ihave left to one side the issue of whether social equality is an ideal of justice or simply of good social relations.
Our success in realizing social equality will always be a matter of degree:our
relations with each other can be more, or less, egalitarian according to whatever
Davina Cooper, Challenging Diversity: Rethinking Equality and the Value of Difference
(Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2004).
40

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ideal we endorse. What distinguishes liberal from radical egalitarian ideals


is not, then, whether one is more achievable than the other, but whether as a
matter of principle it is better to aim for making unequal relationships fairer
or for trying as far as possible to transcend them. Nothing I have said here
is intended to be a conclusive argument for radical egalitarianism, but Ihope
Ihave succeeded in making it sound distinct and attractive.

Acknowledgments
The work of this essay draws on and tries to develop collaborative work
in the UCD Equality Studies Centre, particularly John Baker et al.,
Equality: From Theory to Action, 2nd ed. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan,
2009) and Kathleen Lynch et al., Affective Equality: Love, Care and Injustice
(Basingstoke:Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Iam deeply indebted for the ideas
in this essay to my colleagues, especially Kathleen Lynch, Maureen Lyons,
Judy Walsh, Sara Cantillon, and Marie Moran; to the participants in the 2013
workshop on Equality organized by the Political Theory Specialist Group of
the Political Studies Association of Ireland; to Anca Gheaus, Mark Haugaard,
Pete Morriss and Isabel Baker; to the editors of this book; and to generations
of students in Equality Studies at University College Dublin.

To Praise and to Scorn


The Problem of Inequalities of Esteem for Social
Egalitarianism
C a r i na Fou r i e

The aim of this essay is to provide an answer to the following question:according to social or relational egalitarianism, what is the normative status of
inequalities of social status based on esteem? In section 4.1, Iconsider why
inequalities of esteem might seem to pose a problem for social egalitarianism,
and dismiss two broad-brush preliminary responses to this problemthat
inequalities of esteem are simply either problematic or acceptable. In section 4.2, I analyze W.G. Runcimans claims that inequalities of esteem are
acceptable on the basis of a distinction drawn between respect and esteem.1
Although Ibelieve that the distinction has some merit, and particularly that
many of the intuitive problems we have with inequalities of esteem are related
to violations of respect, Ifind that social egalitarians should still be concerned
about inequalities of esteem in themselves as they can make people feel inferior. As T.M. Scanlon claims, and as Idiscuss in section 4.3, these feelings of
inferiority can harm individuals as well as society. 2 We cannot advocate equality of esteem as suchindeed, the idea is absurdhowever, we have prima
facie reasons as social egalitarians to reduce (at least certain kinds of) inequalities of esteem, or to create social circumstances in which the damage done by
inequalities of esteem is diminished. In the final section of the essay Ipresent
seven factors that Ibelieve should be taken into consideration when evaluating inequalities of esteem from a social egalitarian perspective, as these factors
can make inequalities of esteem more or less acceptable. Iderive these factors
W. G.Runciman, Social Equality, The Philosophical Quarterly 17, no. 68 (1967):221230.
T. M. Scanlon, The Diversity of Objections to Inequality, in The Ideal of Equality, ed.
Matthew Clayton and Andrew Williams (Basingstoke:Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 4159.
1
2

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from an analysis of a number of examples of inequalities of esteem, which are


used throughout the essay, in conjunction with the analysis of Runciman and
Scanlons positions.

4.1 The Problem of Inequalities of Esteem for


Social Egalitarians
Social egalitarians aim to provide a particular interpretation of what it means
for people to be treated as equals and made to feel that they are equals. One
typical characteristic of social equality is that it opposes hierarchies of social
status that rank individuals or groups, e.g., into class divisions. 3 More specifically, social egalitarians tend to condemn hierarchies that indicate that some
individuals or groups are superior and others are inferior, as this demonstrates
that they are not equals. Particular examples of social inequality might be
orders of nobility, such as the British peerage system, or expecting certain
groups of people to act deferentially in the presence of someone of higher status such as by curtsying or not speaking until spoken to.
Let us assume that there is something to social equality and that we seem
at least intuitively convinced that certain kinds of hierarchies of social status
are morally unacceptable. How ever intuitively convincing this idea may be,
at some stage it runs into at least one major complication. The complication
Ihave in mind is this:we esteem certain people and hold others in contempt.
We honor people with favorable attitudes, awards, medals and privileges based
on skills, personal attributes or behaviors. Entire groups of peoplethe intelligent, the beautiful, the moralare often held in esteem, while those lacking in the admired or privileged characteristics are often scorned, explicitly
ignored or simply disregarded. We can call these hierarchies of social status
that are based on esteem (or for short, Ioften refer to these only as hierarchies
or inequalities of esteem).

3
Th is is not their exclusive concern. For more on social equality, besides Runciman and
Scanlons texts, see for example, David Miller, Equality and Justice, Ratio 10, no. 3 (1997):222
237; Jonathan Wolff, Fairness, Respect, and the Egalitarian Ethos, Philosophy & Public Affairs
27, no. 2 (1998):97122; Elizabeth Anderson, What Is the Point of Equality? Ethics 109, no.
2 (1999):287337; Samuel Scheffler, What Is Egalitarianism? Philosophy & Public Affairs 31,
no. 1 (2003):539; Martin ONeill, What Should Egalitarians Believe? Philosophy & Public
Affairs 36, no. 2 (2008):119156; Christian Schemmel, Why Relational Egalitarians Should
Care About Distributions, Social Theory and Practice 37, no. 3 (2011):365390; Carina Fourie,
What Is Social Equality? An Analysis of Status Equality as a Strongly Egalitarian Ideal, Res
Publica 18, no. 2 (2012):107126.

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An example would be the hierarchy implied by some kind of formal competition, such as a sporting event or beauty contest, where individuals are literally ranked according to a particular attribute(s). However, inequalities of
esteem need not be so explicit, nor so formal. Another example would be the
inequality of esteem experienced over a lifetime between someone who is talented and someone who is untalented. Here talented merely means that a
person so designated happens to have the attributes and talents, or happens to
have been lucky enough to have been able to develop the attributes and talents,
which are valued in the particular society in which she lives.4
What should social egalitarians think of inequalities of esteem? On the one
hand, there are clear similarities between these inequalities of esteem and the
examples of social inequalities Idescribed above, such as orders of nobility.
In both cases we seem to evaluate and rank individuals or groups, whether
explicitly or more indirectly, indicating that some are better or superior, and
others, worse or inferior. When it comes to the untalented, their worth or
value seems diminished, but merely because they happen to have been born
into a particular social setting where their attributes or talents are not valued.
Inequalities of esteem do not seem to fit entirely comfortably with an ideal of
social equality, in which hierarchies of social status would be minimized. So,
does this mean that social egalitarians should consider inequalities of esteem
to be unacceptable?
This seems far too simplistic a response. At least, advocating equality of
esteem seems absurd on a number of levels. Esteeming is unavoidable, and at
least many individual acts of esteeming and disesteeming appear to be perfectly
morally permissible, probably even the correct moral response to admired or
disliked characteristics, respectively. Equality of esteem, indeed, appears to be
even logically impossible:the very nature of esteem seems to imply inequality
and as Runciman points out equality of esteem, where esteem is purposefully
meted out equally, is equivalent to no esteem at all. 5 So, does this mean that
social egalitarians should set aside any concerns they have with inequalities of
esteem? Or, indeed, should we set aside social equality as an absurd ideal if it
cannot provide us with an adequate distinction between acceptable esteem
and unacceptable social inequalities?
Here we have two broad-brush and crude responses to inequalities of
esteem:they are unacceptable, or they are acceptable, period. Ithink it would
be appropriate, at least intuitively, to find merit to the claims underlying
each position, but it is difficult to accept either of these extreme responses
precisely because the underlying position of its opposite has some appeal.
4
5

Note, in this particular example, no injustice or failure of responsibility is involved.


Runciman, Social Equality, 223.

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Ithink an intuitive oscillation between these positions points us in something of the right direction. Social egalitarians should neither condemn
inequalities of esteem outright, nor dismiss them as morally irrelevant. What
Iwill be pointing to in this essay is that social egalitarians require a nuanced
approach to inequalities of esteem, and Iaim to provide a preliminary sketch
of such a response. 6
Thus far, Ihave only presented a crude outline of the claim that social egalitarians should find inequalities of esteem acceptable. Perhaps there is more to
this approach than Ihave yet indicated. Let us consider a more detailed and
philosophically better grounded attempt to distinguish between inequalities
of esteem and morally unacceptable social inequalitiesRuncimans notion
of social equality, which draws a distinction between the morality of inequalities of social status based on respect and those based on esteem.

4.2 The Distinction between Respect and Esteem


Typical of the literature on respect is a distinction drawn between recognition
respect (applied to people, this is called respect-for-persons) on the one hand,
and appraisal respect and esteem, on the other hand,7 or in the case of the literature on recognition, between legal recognition, as one form of recognition,
6
Generally, little detailed and direct attention has been paid to this problem by social egalitarians. Theories of social justice and distributive equality have also paid little attention to
esteem. Outside of more direct debates about equality, esteem has indeed been discussed in
analyses of respect and recognition (Stephen L.Darwall, Two Kinds of Respect, Ethics 88, no. 1
(1977):3649; Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition:The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts
(MIT Press, 1996), while Brennan and Petit have developed an economy of esteem, in response
to what they believe is a general neglect of esteem in the literature (Geoffrey Brennan and Philip
Pettit, The Economy of Esteem (Oxford University Press, 2004). Although theories of social equality can profit from these analyses, these texts do not determine what the relationship should be
between theories of social equality and esteem, as they are not specifically focused on social
equality, indeed, often not directly on equality at all. One of the few social egalitarians who has
explicitly considered the problem of inequalities of esteem, although not in detail, is Elizabeth
Anderson, Expanding the Egalitarian Toolbox:Equality and Bureaucracy, Aristotelian Society
Supplementary Volume 82, no. 1 (2008):139160; Elizabeth Anderson, Equality, in The Oxford
Handbook of Political Philosophy, ed. David Estlund (NewYork:Oxford University Press, 2012).
Ibring in some of her useful pointers to the problems associated with esteem in section 4.4. In
this volume, John Baker and Fabian Schuppert also consider how social egalitarians should assess
inequalities of esteem. See also Andrew Masons contribution to this volume for his discussion of
the relevance of respect for social equality.
7
Darwall, Two Kinds of Respect. Darwall actually distinguishes between appraisal respect
and esteem as well. Esteem appears to be a much broader concept than appraisal respect, which
is only associated with respect for character traits (see especially, p.48).

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and social esteem, as another.8 Honneth describes the difference as follows:In


both cases, human beings are respected because of certain traits. In the first
case, however, this is a matter of a general feature that makes them persons at all,
whereas in the second case, it is a matter of the particular characteristics that distinguish them from other persons.9
Runciman is a social egalitarian who has explicitly considered such a distinction between hierarchies of esteem and those of respect as a basis for understanding which inequalities are morally objectionable.10 His notion of social equality
can be used to claim that hierarchies based on esteem are permissible and can
be distinguished from morally objectionable social inequalities that take the
form of hierarchies based on (recognition) respect.11 I will argue that I agree
with Runciman that recognition respect is a central feature of social equality, but
Idisagree with him that as social egalitarians we need not be concerned about
inequalities of esteem in themselves.
Runciman admits that it is often difficult to draw a distinction between respect
and esteem, but he maintains that the onus is on those claiming that the difference
in status is based on esteem to show that it is indeed so. How could one indicate
that a status inequality is based on esteem? He claims that esteeming someone
positively (what Iwill refer to as positive appraisal) means giving her a high score
on a definable attribute, which is positively regarded by some or all others within
a society.12 For this to be esteem and not respect, those with a low score (who
have been negatively appraised) should only be assigned a score and not degraded
in some further sense on the basis of that score. Degradation would imply disrespectcompare the difference between saying, for example, You are not good
at algebra and You are not good at algebra, you idiot. Implicit in this notion of a
score, although Runciman does not draw this out, is that esteem can be graduated
whereas respect cannot bewe either respect someone or we do not, whereas
we can accord various levels of esteem.13 Furthermore, esteem, unlike respect,
Runciman claims is zero-sum:Where two people are accorded unequal praise,
it is (logically) impossible to accord more or less praise to one without thereby
increasing or diminishing the praise accorded to the other.14
8Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition.
9Ibid., 113.
10
Runciman, Social Equality.
11
He uses the word praise rather than esteem, but I am going to use these concepts as if
equivalent.
12
Runciman, Social Equality, 225.
13
The gradation aspect is typical of the distinction:It [...] always presupposes [...] an evaluative frame or reference that indicates the value of personality traits on a scale of more or less,
better or worse (Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition, 113).
14
Runciman, Social Equality, 227.

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In terms of the moral distinction, Runciman claims that all inequalities


of respect are illegitimate and all inequalities of status are to be taken as
inequalities of respect unless they can be shown to be inequalities of praise.15
Runciman does not explain why disrespect is illegitimate but we can rely with
some confidence on the literature on respect to indicate that there is at least a
prima facie moral problem with disrespecting someone.16 The defining feature
of social inequality for Runciman then is that it is a violation of respect and
thus illegitimate, while inequalities of esteem constitute a different kind of status inequality, which appear to be legitimate.
One of the ways in which we could derive a principle of social equality based
on the distinction, Runciman maintains, is that it is one of the principles that
would be likely to be chosen in the original position under a veil of ignorance.17
He goes on to claim that the parties in the original position would agree that
people should be free to esteem different skin colors and that there would thus
be no injustice in white skin being admired more than black skinthis will
still be no more of a social injustice than they all admire [...] athletic prowess
or dialectical skill.18
Although I believe we need to consider this particular examplethe
esteeming of white skinin more detail, and we will in section 4.4, overall
Ibelieve that the distinction between respect and esteem is indeed relevant to
social equality. According someone respect is, Ithink, a necessary condition
of social equality. Respect-for-persons can and should be afforded everyone.
Disrespect is, at least prima facie, necessarily morally problematic. In terms of
social equality particularly, we could say that hierarchies of respect necessarily imply treating people as inferior and superior. In contrast, the very meaning of esteem implies it cannot be distributed (purposefully) equally, and we
could imagine social arrangements in which people are subject to hierarchies
of social status based on esteem, and are regularly appraised negatively, but
where they would not be made to feel inferior (for example, imagine a world
where the distribution of natural talents is such, or the talents that are socially
valuable are such, that each person is able to garner a similar overall amount
of esteem).
Returning to an example we considered in section 4.1, we can say that
the kind of status-indicating behaviors associated with orders of nobility are
Ibid., 221.
Aclassic statement of the problem with disrespecting would, of course, be Immanuel Kant,
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Mary J.Gregor and Jens Timmerman (Cambridge
University Press, 1998). See also Darwall, Two Kinds of Respect.
17
Runciman, Social Equality, 221; John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, revised edition (Oxford
University Press, 1999), Section 24, 118123.
18
Runciman, Social Equality, 222.
15
16

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usually based on inequalities of respect. The expectation that Ishould curtsy


when meeting a queen, for example, is a cultural indicator of a status difference
that does not seem to imply that the queen has a high score on a definable
attribute but rather that she is a superior kind of person to me. This has nothing specifically to do with curtsying itself or even necessarily with the notion
of aristocracy generally. Perhaps in another kind of society, curtsying could
be something you do as a show of esteem (in the same way as we may clap to
show our admiration) and thus according to Runciman it would be acceptable.19 We can also imagine a society in which aristocratic lineage is merely
esteemed, rather than being an indication of superior social standing. If Igave
the queen a hearty pat on the shoulder and said, Well done you in admiration
of her ancestry, while slightly absurd, as long as this was the only difference in
social standing between us, then Runciman is likely to claim that this would
be acceptable (as an expression of esteem and not of respect).
We can use Runcimans explanation of the distinction between respect
and esteem to indicate why we might well be inclined to think that certain
inequalities of esteem are objectionable, and that is because they become
mixed up with violations of respect. As we have already seen, certain expressions of esteem could be violations of respect, such as if we humiliate someone
as part of the way in which we express our negative appraisal. This relationship
between respect and esteem may well be a particularly useful explanation for
many of the other occasions in which we feel inequalities of esteem are morally
unacceptable. For example, reasons of esteem (usually empirically dubious or
downright inaccurate ones) are often presented to justify hierarchies of social
status based on gender or race, such as that women or black people are less
intelligent or less able, and therefore men or whites, respectively, should have
superior standing. In these particular cases, however, we consider it to be a violation of respect that people should be judged inferior or superior on the basis
of race or gender, and it is this that foremost grounds our antipathy to such a
hierarchy of esteem.
Consequently, we could use Runcimans position to justify the claim that
while inequalities of esteem are in themselves not problematic, their association
with violations of respect would be incompatible with social equality. If we left
it at this in terms of the problem that inequalities of esteem pose to social equalityand Iagree that it goes a long way to explain the normative problem with
inequalities of esteemwe could benefit from a more detailed analysis of some
of the complex ways in which respect and esteem may interact. In section 4.4,
Of course, curtsying is clearly not entirely neutral. When you bow or curtsy you lower
yourself and this seems to be intended, at least often, as an explicit indicator of your lower social
status. However, still, this form of behavior need not necessarily be associated with lower status.
19

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Iaim to do thisI provide a preliminary list of categories of problematic cases


of esteem, including cases where esteem and respect are intermingled. Note my
use of the word includingthis implies that Ithink there may still be occasions
where inequalities of esteem could be a problem for social equality without being
clearly related to violations of respect.
While Ifind it plausible that respect is a necessary condition of social equality, and while Iagree that many of the problems we have with inequalities of
esteem are actually due to violations of respect, Iam not convinced that this
is the complete story in terms of the moral acceptability or unacceptability
of inequalities of esteem.20 If we return to the discussion in the previous section, we still do not seem to have solved the problem that esteem poses for
theories of social equality. These theories would be concerned when people
are made to feel as if they are inferior. Our worry in the first place was that
there is something about hierarchies based on esteem that make them similar
to other hierarchies of social status that indicate that some are inferior and
some superior. Even if we recognize an analytical distinction between respect
and esteem, this does not change the reality that people could still be made
to feel inferior when they are often subject to negative appraisal or they lack
positive appraisal. Imagine again the case of the untalented, who do not have
many socially valuable talents and who are thus, over a period of a lifetime,
seldom esteemed. Also, consider a community that places particular emphasis on competitions for esteemits members, even those who are particularly successful at these competitions, may feel a constant anxiety at the lack
of equality between them and their fellow community members, and at the
emphasis on having to prove themselves to be superior with such frequency.
To respond to those who feel inferior, or to those who feel discomfort about
the inequality associated with constant competitions for esteem, by claiming
that actually they are making a mistakethere is no moral problem, as there
is no violation of respect but merely an inequality of esteemseems to be a
trick of semantics rather than a genuine solution to our concerns that perhaps
these are situations where people are not being genuinely treated as equals or
made to feel they are equals.
At the least, Ithink we have grounds to explore inequalities of esteem further
and not merely to accept Runcimans claim that the distinction between respect
and esteem actually provides grounds for dismissing concerns about inequalities of esteem, unless they are clearly associated with disrespect. Ibelieve we can
I n this essay Iset aside some other important hierarchies of social status which would also
be of concern to social egalitarians, such as those of power and domination. For discussions
in this volume which include investigations into hierarchies of power or domination see, John
Baker, Marie Garrau & Ccile Laborde, and Fabian Schuppert.
20

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learn something more specific about why indeed we might be concerned about
inequalities of esteem per se from Scanlons account of status inequalities.

4.3 The Harms of Status Inequalities


Scanlon claims that one of the five primary reasons why we might find inequality
objectionable is if it leads to stigmatizing differences in status, which can make
people feel inferior.21 According to Scanlon we can divide the harm of being
made to feel inferior according to the damage it does to ones sense of self-worth
and the harms to society, which will affect both the badly off and the well off by
impairing civic friendship and social trust (what he refers to as fraternity).22
Status inequality is often accompanied by unfairness, Scanlon argues.
People are made to feel inferior, for example, if they are denied basic rights
and liberties. We can object to this denial of rights in itself without resorting
to highlighting the social inequality that ensues. However, if we removed the
unfairness, for example, in terms of discrimination, or a lack of fair equality of
opportunity, social inequality could still occur and the resulting differences in
status and treatment are still to be regretted as objectionable inequalities [...]
though not unfair, this meritocracy can be expected to deprive some people of
a secure sense of self-worth.23 Indeed, Scanlon claims that when differences
in status are actually genuinely meritocratic and the result of fair competition,
the damage to a sense of self-worth may be all the greater as it will be clear that
those of lower status simply do have less talent than those of higher status.
When it comes to the primary question we are concerned with in this
essay, the normative status of hierarchies of esteem, we could use Scanlons
discussion of status inequality as a basis to claim that hierarchies of esteem
are indeed morally relevant for social equality because they can, reasonably,
make people feel inferior.24 This could damage self-worth or civic friendship,
Scanlon, The Diversity of Objections to Inequality.
Scanlon does not provide any great detail on what is meant by fraternity. For more on the
relationship between social equality and civic friendship in this volume see, Andrew Mason and
Christian Schemmels contributions.
23
Scanlon, The Diversity of Objections to Inequality, 54.
24
We will need to specify that these should be reasonable feelings of inferiority to avoid familiar problems with subjective definitions of well-being such as the problem of adaptive preferences. See for example, Jon Elster, Sour Grapes:Studies in the Subversion of Rationality (Cambridge
University Press, 1985); Martha Nussbaum, Women and Human Development: The Capabilities
Approach (Cambridge, NewYork:Cambridge University Press, 2000), Ch. 2. In cases of social
inequality, people tend to feel inferior because there are certain sets of circumstances or standards
of treatment which are likely to make people feel inferior, even if no one in a specific case actually
feels inferior (due, for example, to adaptive preferences or an especially robust sense of self-worth).
21

22

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or both.25 Consider some of the examples we referred to earlier. It seems that both
in the case of the expectations of deferential behavior as well as in cases where
groups of people are seldom accorded esteem because they are lacking admired
characteristics, those of lower status could reasonably feel inferior and their
self-worth could be damaged as a result of these differences in status. Here we
have a way of explaining the discomfort we may feel at differences in social status
even when they are based on esteem, as Runciman defines it, and when they do
not also encompass a violation of respect.
With Scanlons emphasis on being made to feel inferior, we do not, however,
have a direct solution to the example of a society that encourages frequent competitions for esteem that we considered in the previous section. We cannot describe
the discomfort that even those of higher status may feel at the emphasis on these
competitions as a problem in terms of the talented being made to feel inferior.
However, we could still expand upon Scanlons main claims about the harms
associated with status inequalities to cover this example. This kind of society
really does not seem to be promoting genuinely equal relationships between community members because it encourages constant tension and a constant emphasis
on proving oneself to be superior. This could feasibly be said to undermine fraternitythis kind of emphasis on competitions for esteem could harm society by
undermining civic friendship and social trust.
We can thus use Scanlons explanation of the harm of status inequalities and
this above-mentioned addition to his explanation to supplement the concerns we
have identified thus far, and to start providing a more nuanced view of inequalities of esteem than the views provided by the two broad-brush approaches we
considered in section 4.1.

4.4 Factors that Influence the Assessment of


Inequalities of Esteem
On the basis of the analysis thus far, my main conclusions about what social egalitarians should think about inequalities of esteem are the following:
1. Inequalities of esteem are morally unacceptable when they violate
respect.26
25
Potentially there may be other negative consequences of status inequalitiesI do not
claim this is necessarily exhaustive.
26
Iam not considering their acceptability all things considered. Perhaps there are indeed occasions where even violations of respect are acceptable in light of other values. However Ialso need
not endorse this particular claimI merely leave it open.

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2. Inequalities of esteem, even without violations of respect, could still be


problematic because they can reasonably make people feel inferior or
undermine civic friendship, or both.
I believe that these claims give us a prima facie reason to minimize (at least certain kinds of) inequalities of esteem, or to try to minimize the harms associated with them. How much a socially egalitarian society would aim to do so, or
in which ways, would depend on how important social equality is in relation to
other significant moral values. What Ibelieve we require now is further detail on
when inequalities of esteem are particularly likely to be more or less acceptable, or
which social circumstances are likely to exacerbate or diminish the damage associated with inequalities of esteem. By trying to systematize some of the claims we
have made in the light of our analyses of Runciman and Scanlon, and by further
analyzing some of the examples we have been using, we can present a fuller, more
methodical account of the morally relevant factors that need to be taken into
account by social egalitarians in assessing inequalities of esteem. Subsequently,
here Ipresent a preliminary and nonexhaustive list of these factors.27 Aspects of
some of these factors are rather tentatively described and require much further
discussion and analysis; however, for the purposes of this essay Ibelieve they help
to provide points that can be used for meaningful further discussion.

i. Expressions of Esteem
The first factor that we can identify that will influence whether an inequality
of esteem may be more or less acceptable for social egalitarians is how esteem
is expressed. As discussed in section 4.2, Runciman points out that even when
we are only appraising someone, e.g., giving her a high or a low score on an
attribute, certain forms of expressing esteem would be morally unacceptable.
He points out that certain ways of expressing negative appraisal violate respect
and would thus be unacceptable:for example, if we had to humiliate someone
on the basis of our appraisal. Is the normative problem with this factor reducible to a violation of respect? In this case, Ithink soparticular expressions of
esteem per se are unlikely to be incompatible with social equality unless they
violate respect.
The distinction may not always be clear to make and what may need to be
clarifiedI can only point to this hereare the very different ways in which
These factors are presented in no particular order and should also not be seen as exclusive
categoriesthere is some overlap between them. However, they could also come into conflict
for example, factor iv, the pervasiveness of competitions for esteem, could conflict with factor v,
the genuine opportunities available to achieve socially valuable forms of esteem.
27

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negative appraisal can be expressed and how they may relate to disrespect.
Negative appraisal could take an active form where it becomes the opposite
of positive appraisal, for example, as scorn, contempt or actively ignoring
someone, or it could take a passive form of unintentionally overlooking
someone, or it could simply mean not esteeming, or not providing positive
appraisal. Often, it will be the more active forms of scorn or contempt that are
likely to be violations of respect, while merely not esteeming someone, who
does not deserve to be esteemed, is unlikely to pose a problem for social equality if we concentrate solely on how esteem is expressed.

ii. The Grounds for According Esteem


A second factor that social egalitarians should take into account in assessing
inequalities of esteem is on what grounds positive or negative appraisal is made.
In section 4.2, Imentioned Runcimans claim that admiring white skin should
not pose a problem (in the original position)here, if indeed what is meant by
the appreciation of white skin is merely providing a high score for its whiteness,
then, he claims, this should be acceptable. Setting aside the original position, in
reality however, Ido not think we should feel comfortable with the formation of
a white skin appreciation society, even if it seemed to do nothing except admire
white skin in the same way that a red wine appreciation society appreciates red
wine.28 Besides the practical objection that in reality the only people who would
esteem white skin seem indeed to be motivated by racism, even if it is possible
to simply praise white skin, without implying any direct disrespect to other
races, this form of esteem seems worrying. We can categorize this concern as
being about the grounds for esteem. Certain kinds of reasons for esteem would
be objectionable from a socially egalitarian perspective. While there might be
a number of concerns we could have with race as a grounds for esteem, at the
least we could object that in a world characterized by racial oppression and discrimination, esteeming race seems far too close to a violation of respect for
comfort. Esteeming people because of their skin color does not seem to gel with
the notion that we should treat people as equals as it seems strongly associated
with discrimination and with treating certain races as inferior and superior, even
if, as a genuine case of esteeming, no injustice is really indicated.
Perhaps a further concern could be that race should under no circumstances
be a good reason for according esteem. However, here Imight be more inclined
to Runcimans position. In an ideal world, where racial discrimination has never
been a problem, it seems that it would be acceptable for someone to claim they

28

Imade some initial remarks of this nature in Fourie, What Is Social Equality? fn. 14.

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admire black skin over white skin in the same way that they might claim that
they admire red hair over blonde hair. We may still have some moral problems
with thisfor example, we may think that anyone who really admired someone else on this basis was superficialbut Iam not convinced that the grounds
for according esteem here are directly a violation of social inequality. However,
that being said, if we consider that a socially egalitarian society might aim to
minimize even acceptable inequalities of esteem to avoid some of their negative consequences, perhaps one distinction that should be made in such a society as a guide as to which hierarchies of esteem might be diminished would be
distinguishing between better or worse grounds for esteem, even if the grounds
for esteem are themselves not directly inimical to social equality.
The grounds for according esteem could actually make inequalities of
esteem recommended or required from a social egalitarian perspective. Iam
thinking here of cases where esteem can be used to promote social equality.
Consider the example of upward contempt.29 This is a sneering attitude of
the lower classes toward the upper classes, which refuses to acknowledge the
superiority of the upper classes, and could indeed even imply that they, the
upper classes, are the ones who are inferior. Elizabeth Anderson indicates that
this is one of the tools that is used in civil society to reduce the negative effects
of hierarchies of social status. In this case, the lower classes negative appraisal
of the upper classes is used to reverse a status inequality and to help achieve
social equality. More generally, contempt and positive appraisal have been
indicated as important means to help shape moral behavior. 30 In the context
of social equality, one could see negative appraisal as a tool that can be used
to shame those who violate social equality, or those who are advantaged by
social inequality, and praise or admiration as a tool for promoting egalitarian
behavior. In these cases, inequalities of esteem would not be in conflict with
social equality but actually a means to achieve it.

iii. The Pervasiveness of (Particular) Hierarchies of


Esteem and Competitions for Esteem
The third factor to be taken into account is the pervasiveness of hierarchies
of esteem and competitions for esteem within a community or society. When
only a small number of traits are valued, or when the traits that are valued
are only possessed by or accessible to a small number of people, then certain
A nderson, Expanding the Egalitarian Toolbox, 145; William Ian Miller, The Anatomy of
Disgust (Harvard University Press, 1998), 220233.
30
For a recent discussion, see, for example, Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Honor Code:How
Moral Revolutions Happen (NewYork:W. W.Norton & Company, 2011).
29

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hierarchies of esteem are likely to dominate and be particularly influential.


This would mean that it would be especially difficult for a number of individuals to achieve esteem and many might be likely to be made to feel inferior in
comparison to their esteemed fellow citizens or community members.
A real world example here might be the limited amount of opportunities that
have often been afforded women to gain esteem. In section 4.1, I mentioned
beauty contests as an example of a hierarchy of esteem. While in itself a beauty
contest does not seem problematic, at least not from the perspective of social
equality, it might become a concern, if women are only deemed valuable if they
are beautiful or a great emphasis is placed on how beautiful women should be. If
this is the case, and there is something to be said that this is often not so far off
from reality (although Ido not aim to make any strong empirical claims here),
then it might be difficult for women to feel they are equals if they are unable to
gain esteem in this way.31 In this case we could say that the problem here is the
pervasiveness of this hierarchy of esteem that limits the opportunities women
have for gaining esteem and is likely to be an important factor in terms of how we
should view social status associated with esteem. In all likelihood the fact that
women have been denied a wide range of esteem, is closely related to violations
of respectthey have not been treated as having the same standing as men, their
opportunities have been significantly limited and they have often been treated as
objects, rather than as subjects. In this case, the normative problem seems to be
mainly related to violations of respect and of distributive justice (for example, in
terms of the distribution of opportunities). However, it is, at the very least, still
hypothetically possible to conceive of circumstances in which women might no
longer suffer direct or formal injustice and discrimination, but they might still
only be esteemed for a small range of attributes or talents, and this would be worrying in a society that holds social equality to be significant.
Scanlon, along with a number of social egalitarians, points to pluralism as a
promising solution for minimizing the possible negative consequences of status
inequalities.32 In a pluralistic society, which promotes a diversity of values and conceptions of the good, it seems that people would be more likely to be able to feel valued, and not so likely to be made to feel inferior. Iagree that inequalities of esteem
are likely to be much less invidious in a pluralistic society, although we should not
be complacent in believing that a plurality of values and opportunities for esteem
would necessarily promote social equality. Imagine a person unlucky enough that
31
For a feminist investigation specifically into the dominance of norms of attractiveness
against which women are measured, see Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth:How Images of Beauty Are
Used against Women (NewYork:Perennial, 2002).
32
See also, Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality
(New York: Basic Books, 1983); Miller, Equality and Justice; Anderson, Expanding the
Egalitarian Toolbox.

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none of the traits she has are esteemed, even though there are a vast number of talents that are indeed esteemed. This person could reasonably feel inferior, and may
feel even more so, knowing that there are many opportunities for esteem. It is possible that for those unlucky enough to have very few talents, pluralism may prompt
even greater damage to their sense of self-worth than in a less diverse society, as they
find they fail at almost everything, and there are so many very things at which to
fail. Despite this proviso, Ithink we can recognize, however, that the pervasiveness
of certain hierarchies of esteem is a significant factor that is likely to increase the
probability that inequalities of esteem are noxious, and that pluralism is often likely
to promote social equality, although it can be no guarantee.
While a pluralism of social values is likely to mitigate the negative effects of
inequalities of esteem, a society that places a great emphasis on the importance
of competing for esteem and that encourages many competitions for esteem
this example was first raised in section 4.2seems as if it might exacerbate
the damage of status inequalities. While esteeming might be unavoidable, we
could choose social arrangements that place more or less of an emphasis on
encouraging its participants to be in frequent competition with their peers to
prove their worth. The pervasiveness of particular hierarchies of esteem as well
as the pervasiveness of competitions for esteem are thus likely to be factors
that should be taken into account in assessing inequalities of esteem.

iv. Institutionally Backed Inequalities of Esteem


An exacerbating factor for inequalities of esteem is whether the esteem has formal institutional backing, e.g. if it is endorsed by the state. Scanlon emphasizes
that while individuals may suffer from low self-worth due to their personal
psychological make-up, the feelings of inferiority that we should be concerned about as egalitarians occur when institutions reinforce or create status
inequalities. 33 The perniciousness of institutionally backed esteem seems to be
a problem from a socially egalitarian perspective, first, and this we can relate
back to the previous factor, because the authority and influence given to these
inequalities through its institutional backing, would make them particularly
pervasive. Second, in general, it is particularly noxious for institutions such as
the state to take sides on who is better or worse among its members, and its
obligations to treat people as equals are stronger than the obligations that individuals have for treating each other as equals in their everyday lives (there are
likely to be numerous other reasons why we might think that state-sponsored
esteem is problematic, but this is probably related to violations of other values
Scanlon, The Diversity of Objections to Inequality, 52. Amore thorough investigation of
this problem would require greater clarity on what is meant by institutions.
33

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such as liberty rather than equality). An example outside of the realm of the
state would be if teachers and official school channels of recognition and
reward were to back up the informal hierarchies of popularity at a high school.
While institutionally backed inequalities of esteem are likely to be particularly pernicious, Ido not think this kind of backing is necessarily problematic from a socially egalitarian perspective. I would also not dismiss as
harmless inequalities of esteem that are not created or reinforced by institutional arrangements. First, institutions may want to use appraisal to influence
behavior, and particularly if this will promote or help to achieve social equality, then from the perspective of social egalitarianism, it might be acceptable,
even recommended for institutions to use appraisal in this way (whether or
not we would endorse it all things considered). Second, I do not think that
this provides grounds to claim that only institutionally backed hierarchies of
esteem are problematic. Even hierarchies of esteem that are associated with
more informal spheres such as those in civil society may be problematic if associated with some of the other factors discussed in this sectionfor example,
as discussed in terms of the previous factor, certain informal hierarchies of
esteem could be especially pervasive.

v. The Genuine Opportunities Available to Achieve


Socially Valuable Forms of Esteem
A fifth factor to take into account is whether social arrangements are such that
genuine opportunities are available to achieve esteem. Consider again the
example of sporting competitions. Historically, often only favored groups
upper classes, men and those without disabilitieshave been allowed to compete in many sports. 34 Not only does equality dictate that these sports should
be opened up to allow others to compete, it also dictates that they should be
given genuine opportunities to compete for esteem and under certain circumstances this would mean that certain social groups should be allowed
to compete on their own terms. It is obvious that equality necessitates that
the competition for valuable social positions and honors should be open to
women, non-Caucasians, those with disabilities, and the working classes, and
so on, where these factors, if fair equality of opportunity applies, should make
no difference to the ability to compete. Here we require an open and level playing field. However, there are certain kinds of competitions for esteem, where,
for example, gender, or certain differences in ability, will make it difficult
for certain groups to compete with each other directly, perhaps particularly
See Mika LaVaque-Manty, The Playing Fields of Eton: Equality and Excellence in Modern
Meritocracy (University of Michigan Press, 2009), 79152.
34

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in sports or physical events. One cannot claim, for example, that women are
being treated as equals if they are allowed to compete directly with men in
athletics. Genuine opportunities to compete for esteem would require different platforms for competition in these cases, and, thus, having separate events
designated specifically for men and for women, and developing competitions
such as the Paralympics, can be seen to be means of securing social equality.
Simply having sporting events specifically for women, for example, is not
enough, however, for these to be genuine opportunities for securing esteem.
Often womens sports attract less honorfor example, there may be many
fewer spectators than in mens sports and the privileges associated with them,
such as prize money, are often of a lesser value. This could be seen as a problem
for equal social standing as women are restricted to having only inferior platforms to compete for esteem in these cases. 35 Something similar can also be said
about a tendency to divide esteem into categories that imply a higher or lower
social status. For example, even if women have plenty of genuine opportunities
to achieve esteem in certain socially valuable categories such as being beautiful
or being a good mother or an excellent cook, where these imply that these are
lower forms of esteem than the truly valuable forms of esteem available to
men, then, yet again, women are not being treated as equals. Particularly insidious is when esteem is accorded for manifestations of lower status. Consider,
for example, the problem of femininity being associated with submissiveness.
Women excel when they are quiet, pleasant, when they dont rock the boat,
and so on. Here women are given room to excel but not in a socially egalitarian
way as what they are given room to excel at is an expression of lower status.
With the particular examples that we have used, the normative problem
mainly seems to lie with a violation of respect or with an unfair distribution
of opportunities, or both, and not with the hierarchies of esteem per se. In all
likelihood these would constitute the most morally urgent cases. However, it
is possible that, unintentionally and due to no failure in respect, certain societies may not provide its members with genuine opportunities to gain esteem.
Socially egalitarian societies might aim to minimize or redress even these
ensuing inequalities of esteem.

vi. Compounded Hierarchies of Esteem


A sixth factor that Iidentify here for assessing hierarchies of esteem is whether
or not they are compounded. In section 4.2, we considered that often hierarchies of esteem are mixed up with hierarchies of respect. Furthermore, in
For a detailed discussion of these concerns, see LaVaque-Manty, The Playing Fields of Eton,
131152.
35

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section 4.1, I indicated that inequalities of esteem are often not only limited to positive or negative appraisalalong with positive appraisal comes
awards, medals, and privileges (and vice versawith greater power and
material goods, for example, often comes greater esteem). Amorally relevant
factor that would also need to be taken into account is whether hierarchies
of esteem, as they often do, become associated with the conferral of other
valuable social goods, such as a higher income, or with other hierarchies of
social status. 36
As social egalitarians Ithink we need to be particularly suspicious of hierarchies of esteem that justify or bolster privileged or underprivileged status,
often making the advantaged, or the disadvantaged, even more so. Consider
an example here from the United Kingdomthe stereotypes associated
with chavs (an often derogatory term used to refer to groups of the working classes), which are manifest in the media and popular culture and which
claim that, for example, they do not value education or high culture, they do
not value work and they enjoy living off benefits, and for chavettes particularly (female chavs), they are lascivious and promiscuous. 37 Foremost, what
we have here, clearly, is a hierarchy of social status that goes far beyond mere
negative appraisal and that violates respect. However, note the complex way in
which esteem becomes mixed inwhat it is the lower classes excel at, what it
is that they esteem, should actually, if you are the right kind of person not be
valued. Along with this is the implication that their underprivilege could well
stem from their inability to esteem the correct traits, such as being highly
educated, and not being a teenage mother, for example. In this compounded
hierarchy, negative appraisal, mixed with disrespect, is not only one of the
manifestations of lower status, it is used to justify that status.

vii. The Bounds of Hierarchies of Esteem


A last factor that could be relevant to how social egalitarians view inequalities of esteem is whether the inequality is bounded or limited. Consider again
formal competitions such as sporting eventsthese kinds of formal competitions are far from the only way in which esteem is conferred, however, there
Th is kind of concern is at the heart of Walzers notion of complex equalityhe believes
this form of egalitarianism requires separate spheres of justice in order to be upheld (Walzer,
Spheres of Justice). As Scanlon points out, although Walzers theory may not satisfy as a theory of
distributive justice, it may well be useful at pointing to how a society can try to minimize status
inequalities (Scanlon, The Diversity of Objections to Inequality, 5556).
37
Owen Jones, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (London; New York: Verso,
2012); Rhian E. Jones, Clampdown: Pop-Cultural Wars on Class and Gender (Alresford: Zero
Books, 2013).
36

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might be particular factors often associated with these kinds of competitions, which will influence the acceptability of inequalities of esteem. These
factors are likely to make these inequalities more morally acceptable. When
hierarchies of esteem have clearly marked limits (e.g., the social status that is
conferred applies only within those bounds of a competition and not outside
of it, or where the hierarchy is of a temporary nature, or where individuals
freely choose to be judged according to these hierarchies), Ibelieve they are
more likely to be acceptable. This claim is not without its complicationsfor
example, this is then linked with complex notions such as what it might mean
to choose freelybut I think we can indeed make a distinction between
hierarchies that have such bounds and that individuals may choose to enter
or not, and those that are influential in society in general and to which one is
exposed merely by being born into such a society.
The limited bounds of a hierarchy based on esteem cannot, however,
make any kind of hierarchy morally permissible. At the least, the other factors that we consider in this sectionsuch as the pervasiveness of particular inequalities of esteem (factor iii)would also need to be taken into
account. If, for example, one of the only ways in which women are able to
achieve esteem is through physical attractiveness, then it would be more
difficult to claim that we have no social egalitarian grounds to object to
beauty contests simply because contestants choose whether or not to participate in them. Notice also here that the inequality concerned is not necessarily between men and women. Imagine a community in which one of
the few characteristics for which women are admired is attractiveness but
the opportunities for men to gain esteem are also confined, for example,
according to how much power and money they have. We might say, if the
opportunities men have for gaining esteem from power and money are similar to the opportunities women have for gaining esteem from attractiveness,
then there is indeed some form of equality between the sexes. However, we
should still be concerned about this even for egalitarian reasons because the
individuals within these social groups may reasonably be made to feel inferior in comparison to their highly esteemed peers.

4.5 Conclusion:What Should Social Egalitarians


Think About Inequalities of Esteem?
Relying on arguments from Runciman (and perhaps also additional literature on
respect), we can claim that there is an analytical and moral distinction between
hierarchies of social status based on respect-for-persons and those based on
esteem, and that hierarchies based on respect are particularly unacceptable.

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Often, our discomfort with inequalities of esteem is due to the fact that they
become mixed up with violations of respect. However, Scanlon provides us
with reasons we could use to justify why we might still find hierarchies of
esteem in themselves morally problematic, which are that due to social circumstances (e.g., what it is society chooses to value or the way in which society is
arranged) people can be reasonably made to feel as if they are inferiorharming self-worth or civic friendship, or both. Furthermore, even those who are
better off can be harmed by a society that greatly encourages competitions for
esteem. As social egalitarians, we thus have reasons to diminish inequalities of
esteem or to arrange society in such a way as to diminish the damage they can
do. Ihave provided a noncomprehensive list of seven factors that Ibelieve are
important for social egalitarians to take into account in assessing inequalities
of esteem and in trying to create social arrangements that are most compatible
with people being genuinely treated as equals, and made to feel as such.

Acknowledgments
I am very grateful to Sebastian Muders, Fabian Schuppert, and Ivo
Wallimann-Helmer for providing me with helpful comments on drafts of this
essay. I am also grateful to participants at the research seminars in Applied
Ethics and Political Philosophy at the Ethics Research Institute of the
University of Zurich for feedback and probing questions that have helped me
to improve this essay. Iwould also like to thank Elizabeth Anderson and members of the Philosophy Department at the University of Michigan, as well as
participants at the MANCEPT workshop on equality (2011), for motivating
and challenging my nascent ideas on the relationship between social equality,
respect, and inequalities of esteem. This essay was written as part of a research
project hosted by the Ethics Research Institute of the University of Zurich and
financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), and I am very
grateful for the support provided by both of these institutions.

Being Equals
Analyzing the Nature of Social Egalitarian Relationships
Fa bi a n Sc h u ppe rt

Within normative political theory the idea of social equality has recently gained
significant traction.1 Social equality isaccording to its proponentsprimarily
concerned with the way people relate to each other, namely as equals.2 According
to David Miller, [w]here there is social equality, people feel that each member
of the community enjoys an equal standing with all the rest that overrides their
unequal ratings along particular dimensions, such as for example ones natural endowments in talents or ones income.3 While the idea that a just society is
one in which all members of society can interact as equals is anything but new,
as exemplified by the work of Thomas Paine and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, social
egalitarians claim that their conception of equality allows us to better understand
both why and in which form we value equality, and why we object to certain

1
Th roughout this essay I will use the term social equality, even though in the literature
different theorists use different terms, including relational equality, democratic equality,
social-relational equality, social status equality and social equality. Needless to say not all these
terms in their respective uses are perfectly synonymous. However, for the purpose of this essay
Iwill treat social equality as a more or less coherent ideal, which is based on the idea that all members of society should relate to each other as free and equals.
2
Elizabeth Anderson, What Is the Point of Equality? Ethics 109, no. 2 (1999): 287
337; Samuel Scheffler, Choice, Circumstance, and the Value of Equality in Equality and
Tradition: Questions of Value in Moral and Political Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2010), 208235; Samuel Scheffler, What Is Egalitarianism? Philosophy & Public Affairs 31, no.
1 (2003):539; David Miller, Equality and Justice, Ratio 10, no. 3 (1997):222237; Thomas
Scanlon, The Diversity of Objections to Inequality, in The Ideal of Equality, ed. Matthew
Clayton and Andrew Williams (Basingstoke:Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), 4159; Carina Fourie,
What is Social Equality? An Analysis of Status Equality as a Strongly Egalitarian Ideal, Res
Publica 18, no. 2 (2012):107126.
3
M iller, Equality and Justice, 232.

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inequalities and not to others.4 However, when it comes to spelling out what being
equals actually entails and what kind of social relationships we should deem
(in)compatible with the ideal of social equality, much work remains to be done.
The most common way of cashing out the idea of social equality is by contrasting it with inequalities in social status. Miller, for instance, says that social
equality is the hallmark of a society not marked by status divisions such that
one can place different people in hierarchically ranked categories.5 Similarly,
Carina Fourie argues that social equality is first and foremost an opposition
to status hierarchies, while Samuel Scheffler sees social equality realized in
relationships that are, in certain crucial respects at least, unstructured by differences of rank, power, or status.6
While these statements by Miller, Fourie, and Scheffler certainly ring true,
social egalitarians now face the question of determining criteria for distinguishing between objectionable and unobjectionable status differences. After
all, claiming that social equality is opposed to status hierarchies appears too
general a statement, since many status hierarchies seemat least in complex
modern mass societiessimply unavoidable.7 So, is it, for instance, really an
issue for social egalitarians that some people are experts and enjoy a certain
authority when it comes to questions in their area of expertise? Probably not.
In fact, it seems that not all status differences areas suchalways problematic. Thus, if we want social equality to be a convincing ideal of social relationships we need a clearer understanding of which status differences are
(in)compatible with the ideal and why.
Therefore, the aim of this essay is to analyze what kind of relationships social
egalitarians should deem (in)compatible with the ideal of social equality and
for which reasons. Thus, Iwill start by setting out the basic contours of social
equality, drawing on the work of Samuel Scheffler and Martin ONeill. As Iwill
argue social egalitarians are mainly concerned with the protection of every persons free and responsible agency and how people relate to each other. Apersons
free and responsible agency though can easily be threatened by inegalitarian
relationships.8 Therefore, in section 5.2, Iwill critically assess different forms of
4
Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (NewYork:Penguin, 1984 [1791]) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau,
A Discourse on Inequality, trans. M. Cranston (London:Penguin, 1984 [1755]).
5
M iller, Equality and Justice, 224.
6
Fourie, What Is Social Equality? 110; Scheffler, Choice, Circumstance, 225.
7
Most social egalitarians are perfectly aware of this need for further clarification, so Idont
mean to suggest here that Miller, Scheffler and Fourie are oblivious to this fact.
8
For the remainder of this essay Iwill take the term inegalitarian relationships to designate
relationships that violate one or more of the conditions of social equality, set out in section 5.1.
Social egalitarian relationships, meanwhile, refers to relationships that fulfill the conditions of
social equality.

Analyzing the Nature of Social Egalitarian R elationships

109

social relationships and try to flesh out why certain relationships should be considered problematic from the viewpoint of social equality. While there exists an infinite number of social relationships one could consider, Iwill restrict my analysis
to three paradigmatic cases, namely, workplace relationships, richpoor relationships and gender relationships. Each of these relationships lends itself to shedding
light on particular issues that social egalitarians are particularly concerned with,
to wit, differences in power and authority (workplace relationships), differences in
wealth and esteem (richpoor relationships) and societal practices of misrecognition and sociocultural stereotyping (gender relationships).9 My analysis of these
issues and relationships will prove helpful in two ways:first, it will clarify what the
social egalitarian interpretation of being equals implies with regard to the precise
nature of social egalitarian relationships; second, it will show how far-reaching the
range of the ideal of social equality is. Iwill end with some very brief remarks on
the relationship between social equality and social justice. Overall, the essay hopes
to clarify not only the idea of social equality as such but also its normative potential
for identifying and addressing harmful social inequalities.

5.1 The (Rough) Contours of Social Equality


Before we can even attempt to distinguish between those social relationships that
are compatible with social equality and those that are not, we need to have at least
a very rough understanding of what social equality entails. For the purpose of
this essay, Iwill take my bearings from Samuel Scheffler, who is not only one of
the main champions of social equality as a distinct normative ideal, but who also
tries to give us a more detailed positive account of what it means to be (social)
equals than some of the other social egalitarians.10 Scheffler suggests that treating
someone else as an equal requires us to respect the other, to see the other as a
full-fledged agent who has the capacities associated with this agential status, that
is, to expect the other to bear whatever responsibilities are assigned to a person
in virtue of this status and to see the other as entitled to make whatever claims
accrue to a person in virtue of this status.11 Phrased differently, treating someone
These issues (i.e., differences in power and authority, differences in wealth and esteem,
and societal practices of misrecognition and sociocultural stereotyping) obviously cut across
all three relationships. However, structuring my analysis of social relationships in this way will
make for greater analytical clarity.
10
A s Jonathan Wolff observes in his contribution to this volume (esp. section 10.3), some
social egalitarians seem to define the ideal mainly in negative terms, that is, in opposition to certain phenomena. For Schefflers own account of social relationships compatible with the ideal of
social equality, see his essay in this volume, The Practice of Equality.
11
Scheffler, The Practice of Equality, 24.
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else as an equal means to recognize the other as a free and responsible agent and
to respect and value the others relevant interests adequately.
Following Scheffler, I hold that social equality is necessary for properly
protecting peoples free and responsible agency.12 The idea of being equals,
then, expresses the idea of a society in which all persons recognize each other
as reason-responsive agents with the capacity to act freely and to take responsibility for their actions. To treat another as an equal and to recognize her
agency means to recognize the other as a legitimate source of claims and
reasons. This entails that within a socially egalitarian society people should
mutually recognize each other and respect each others fundamental interests.
However, this description of social equality seems to focus almost entirely
on two agents interpersonal relationships, that is, face-to-face relationships
in which it is (comparatively) easy to establish whether both agents actually
mutually recognize each other and act accordingly. Moreover, speaking of
social equality as protecting a persons free and responsible agency might
appear overly abstract.
If social equality is supposed to act as a social ideal that governs a wide array
of relationships within a society, though, it seems that we also need a less intersubjective and less abstract account of what social equality entails. One way of
providing such a less abstract account is to ask, which kind of relationships and
structures actually threaten peoples status as social equals, that is, their status
as fully recognized free and responsible agents. In answering this question, we
derive an idea of the basic parameters that a social egalitarian society wants
to advance and which kinds of threats to agency social egalitarians should be
concerned with.
In order to arrive at these parameters, we can draw on Martin ONeills
work.13 ONeill presents us with a list of negative consequences stemming
from inequality. While ONeills list refers to distributive inequalities and
their negative consequences, Ithink it is also applicable to social inequalities.
According to ONeill, (social) inequality threatens the satisfaction of basic
needs, inequality creates stigmatizing differences in status, inequality leads
to domination, inequality undermines peoples self-respect, inequality leads to
servile behavior, and inequality erodes social trust and solidarity.14 However,
while all six of these issues might be morally problematic, Iwant to focus in
my analysis in section 5.2 on four problems, namely, stigmatizing differences
12
For a more detailed account of how free agency, mutual recognition, and social equality
are related to each other see my Freedom, Recognition & Non-Domination:ARepublican Theory of
(Global) Justice (Dordrecht:Springer, 2013).
13
Martin ONeill, What Should Egalitarians Believe? Philosophy & Public Affairs 36, no. 2
(2008):119156.
14
ONeill, What Should Egalitarians Believe? 121123.

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in status, domination, the undermining of peoples self-respect, and servile


behavior. I leave aside the issue of basic needs violations, since instances of
avoidable absolute deprivation are a problem almost any normative theory
will oppose, not just social egalitarianism. Iwill also leave aside the erosion
of social trust, whichwhile a serious issueseems to operate on a slightly
different level, since it is difficult to imagine the erosion of social trust without
any of the other harms materializing beforehand. Therefore, my focus will be
on stigmatizing differences in status, domination, the undermining of peoples
self-respect, and servile behavior. Following ONeill, Iwant to claim that egalitarians wanting to promote a society of free and equals should be particularly
concerned with these social inequality related harms and how they affect the
way people relate to themselves and to each other.
If we take together the descriptions provided by Scheffler and ONeill,
we can see that social equality, on the one hand, prescribes a certain form of
behavior and attitude amongst different agents, namely respect for and recognition of a persons free and responsible agency, while on the other hand, social
equality is about protecting peoples self-respect, along with the avoidance of
domination, servile behavior, and social stigma. If this account of social equality is correct, we can already get an idea of the demanding and complex nature
of social equality, since the societies we live in seem to be ripe with relationships and structures that conflict with the mentioned ideal.15 So what kinds of
relationships are actually compatible with social equality and why?

5.2 Social Relationships and the Demands of


Social Equality
As stated earlier, social egalitarians want to protect peoples free and responsible agency, which leads them to worry about unequal social relationships
and their possible negative consequences on peoples agency. However, one
key problem social egalitarians face in making their normative vision tangible is thatas Scheffler observesdifferences of rank, power, and status
are endemic to human social life.16 Hierarchical relationships, such as those
I f my argument is correct social egalitarians should be concerned with both social relationships and socioinstitutional structures, since the basis for claims to social equality lies in every
persons capacity for free and responsible agency and not in the existence of certain forms of relationships. If the latter were true, namely that the grounds for claims to social equality stem from
certain forms of relationships, social equality would be associative in nature and not a general
social ideal among free and responsible agents, that is, claims of social equality would only arise
if people stood in particular relation to each other (e.g., as siblings).
16
Scheffler, Choice, Circumstance, 225.
15

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existing between managers and workers, masters and apprentices, teachers and
students, and experts and laypeople, seem to be an almost unavoidable part
of contemporary division of labor. So how can we distinguish social egalitarian relationships from inegalitarian ones? In order to carve out the differences
between objectionable and unobjectionable social relationships, I will analyze in this section three paradigmatic cases, namely, workplace relationships,
richpoor relationships, and gender relationships. Each of these relationships
lends itself to shedding light on particular issues that social egalitarians are
especially concerned with, to wit, differences in power and authority (workplace relationships), differences in wealth and esteem (richpoor relationships), and societal practices of misrecognition and sociocultural stereotyping
(gender relationships), since differences in power and authority, differences in
wealth and esteem, and societal practices of misrecognition and sociocultural
stereotyping all can raise issues with regard to the harms identified in the last
section, namely, stigmatizing differences in status, domination, the undermining of peoples self-respect and servile behavior.
The problem with analyzing relationships such as workplace relationships,
richpoor relationships, and gender relationships is that they are very complex
and varied, which means assessing them from the viewpoint of social equality is much more difficult than assessing, for instance, masterslave relationships. The relationship between master and slave is often used as the standard
example for an inegalitarian (and also unjust) relationship.17 The master is able
to dominate the slave, the slave has no rights against the master, and the gross
imbalance in power between master and slave often leads to servile behavior.
Thus, it appears rather obvious that masterslave relationships are incompatible with the ideal of social equality. Because the slave lacks rights, lacks the
status of a full person, lacks the free agency to decide for himself/herself, lacks
freedom from domination, and lacks control over his/her life, masterslave
relationships are deemed unjustifiable by virtually all normative political
theories. This assessment even holds for cases in which a person might have
voluntarily entered into a slave contract. In fact, slave contracts are one of the
very few voluntary agreements between rational consenting agents that most
normative political philosophers deem unacceptable.
While masterslave relationships are prone to cause several of the harms
we find on ONeills list, it is also clear that further analyzing masterslave
relationships will not help us in fleshing out the contours of social equality.
However, as Ihope to show below, analyzing workplace relationships, rich
poor relationships and gender relationships will help us in this regard.
Iwill briefly come back to the distinction between inegalitarian and unjust relationships at
the end of the essay.
17

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5.2.1 Workplace Relationships or


ManagerWorker Relationships
Managerworker relationships are obviously far more difficult to assess
than masterslave relationships. First, it is important to note that manager
worker relationships come in many different forms. Hence, our analysis of
managerworker relationships here is not at all supposed to be an exhaustive account but rather an exercise in drawing out certain issues by using
a slightly stylized example. For the discussion in this section I therefore
employ a simplified account of managerworker relationships, by treating
managers and workers as coherent groups and as the only relevant groups.
It goes without saying, though, that in many real workplaces several groups
of managers and workers exist and thus some of the differences in powers,
authority, and rights Idiscuss later cut across groups and can be found on
different levels. Moreover, in this section Iwill focus on particular forms of
managerworker relationships, namely those that are marked by large differences in power and authority.
The question Iwant to focus on in my analysis of managerworker relationships is where to draw the line between harmful and harmless hierarchies
in power and authority, since the mere fact that some are managers and others
are workers does notin itselfseem to suffice for rendering a relationship
problematic.18
The relationship between workers and managers is in many cases ultimately
an issue of decision-making power and authority. In many workplaces management enjoys a wide range of decision-making powers with regard to the workers. This decision-making power includes the determination of a workers actual
work activity (e.g., whether a worker carries out task Aor task B, with Aand B
possibly varying quite significantly in complexity, demandingness and fulfilingness), the change of fundamental working conditions (e.g., hours of employment,
access to and quality of tools and equipment, location and actual workplace, etc.)
as well as the prescription of strategic goals (e.g., increase in production by 10%,
18
My aim in this section is not to discuss the general connection between work conditions
and workers well-being. The literature on the relationship between work conditions, workers
mental health, job satisfaction, and overall well-being is extremely wide and varied, as well
as not without controversy. On the abuse of power in hierarchical work relations, see Donald
Vredenburgh and Yael Brender, The Hierarchical Abuse of Power in Work Organizations,
Journal of Business Ethics 17, no. 12 (1998):13371347. For an in-depth analysis of work organization and its effects on workers and output efficiency, see John Budd, Employment with a Human
Face:Balancing Efficiency, Equity, and Voice (Ithaca, NY:Cornell University Press, 2004). On the
relationship between workplace democracy and mental health, see Stephen Hamilton, Michael
Basseches, and Francis Richards, Participatory-Democratic Work and Adolescents Mental
Health, American Journal of Community Psychology 13, no. 4 (1985):467486.

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change of product, etc.).19 More often than not, these powers are not subject to
democratic constraints or other forms of legitimating procedures. Moreover
changes to ones workplace can significantly affect a persons well-being, considering that most people in so-called industrialized countries spend between 35
and 45 hours a week at their workplace and derive large parts of their self-respect,
self-confidence, and overall well-being from their work and interactions at their
workplace. Therefore, if one follows Nien-h Hsiehs argument that leaving
ones workplace in light of changes in ones working conditions is for most workers a very costly and thus rather unfeasible option, it seems fair to say that in
many workplaces managers have the power to arbitrarily interfere with workers interests.20 Following the republican understanding of domination, we can
thus say that in many workplaces workers face domination by the management.
The republican understanding of domination holds that an agent Ais dominated
by another agent B if B can arbitrarily interfere with As relevant interests and
choices, even if this interference never occurs. The mere fact that B can interfere
with As choices without tracking As relevant interests, and that Aand B know
this to be the case, makes the relationship between Aand B a case of domination.
Thus, even if the management turns out to be benevolent workers can be subject
to domination, as long as management can arbitrarily interfere with workers relevant interests.21 Domination, though, was one of the key harms on ONeills
list that social egalitarians should worry about. Thus, it seems that workplace
relationships of domination are incompatible with the idea of social equality.
However, not every difference in power and authority in the workplace
makes for a case of domination. Domination only exists in situations in which
an agent Acan arbitrarily interfere with agent B, without tracking Bs relevant
interests.22 Therefore, domination does not exist if agent As power over B is
not sufficient to interfere arbitrarily, that is, if Acannot at will interfere with
19
My argument in this section is indebted to Keith Breens excellent account of domination
and workplace democracy in Keith Breen, Freedom, Republicanism, and Workplace Democracy,
Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (forthcoming Summer 2014).
20
Nien-h Hsieh, Workplace Democracy, Workplace Republicanism, and Economic
Democracy, Revue de Philosophie conomique 8, no. 1 (2008):5778. One interesting question
that crops up is whether strictly hierarchical managerworker relationships would be unobjectionable if every worker had an effective and affordable exit option (e.g., by providing a sufficiently high universal basic income). This is a question Icannot address here.
21
See Philip Pettit, Republicanism. A Theory of Freedom and Government (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1997); Frank Lovett, A General Theory of Domination and Justice (Oxford:Oxford
University Press, 2010).
22
The relevant interests of an agent are those fundamentally connected to an agents free
and responsible agency, such as to be recognized as a legitimate source of claims and reasons, or
being able to make meaningful choices. For further detail, see Schuppert, Freedom, Recognition &
Non-Domination, esp. Chapter3.

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B with no regard for Bs relevant interests. So if social equality is only compatible with workplace relationships that do not present cases of domination, the
question is what kind of conditions must be fulfilled so as to protect workers
against domination. Since domination is defined as arbitrary interference and
disregard for workers relevant interests, the avoidance of domination seems
to require at least two things:on the one hand, any interference in the workplace, or any differences in power and authority that enable interference in the
first place, must be legitimized and thus made nonarbitrary; on the other hand,
workers must be able to voice and defend their relevant interests effectively,
which seems to raise the issue of control. As we will see, legitimacy and control are somewhat connected. So in light of these two conditions, what would
social egalitarian managerworker relationships look like?
The first question is how to legitimize the differences in decision-making
power, especially since differences in decision-making power in the workplace seem unavoidable. Within current work arrangements legitimacy is
often assumed to stem from the agreement of a contract between employer
and employee. However, because of the large powers managers often hold over
workers a general employment contract seems inadequate for bestowing legitimacy on decisions such as complete change of workplace location, reconceptualization of the work process and the like.23 That is to say, not only in order
to avoid domination as such, but also in order to legitimize large differences
in power and authority workers need to have a voice in decisions that significantly affect the overall structure of the work.
One way to bestow legitimacy onto managerial decisions is to have elected
worker representatives on decision-making bodies. However, such a purely representative model seems ill-suited to actually protect workers against the ills
of workplace domination. Therefore, Hsieh argues that workers should enjoy
contestatory rights to question and challenge managerial decisions.24 Through
using contestatory channels workers could protect their relevant interests and
force management to reevaluate controversial decisions. However, as Keith
Breen points out, contestation only works ex post, meaning that it only comes
into play once a potentially harmful decision has been made. 25 In the worst
A s mentioned in footnote 20, for the argument here Iassume that workers do not have an
easy and affordable exit option, which would obviously change their bargaining power significantly. If, however, the background conditions in society were such that workers could negotiate
their working conditions on fair terms, we might think that the issue of legitimacy was covered by
the contract between employer and worker. Nevertheless, though, the issue of control would still
need to be addressed and the ideal of social equality would still be incompatible with relationships of domination.
24
Hsieh, Workplace Democracy.
25
Breen, Freedom, Republicanism.
23

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case scenario, workers would have to comply with harmful decisions until
their appeal for contestation has been heard. Moreover, and more importantly,
a right to contestation would leave the dominating structure intact, since managers still enjoy all of the mentioned decision-making powers over workers.
Since actual negative interference is not necessary for domination, it is clear
that any attempt to change inegalitarian workplace relationships must address
the structural conditions of domination. This leads us back to the issue of control and influence.
As Pettit highlights in his defense of the republican idea of freedom as
non-domination, effective protection against domination within a complex
system (which in Pettits case is the democratic state) requires both an absence
of arbitrary alien control and the presence of robust freedom and individualized popular control. 26 According to Pettit, within a complex multiagent
system, an agent cannot claim personal control and direct personal influence
over the decisions of the collective since that would amount to having an individual veto right.27 Instead, all agents must engage in a form of individualized
joint control, which for each and every agent must be unconditioned (i.e. not
dependent on somebody elses will) and efficacious (i.e. strong and discernable
enough so as to avoid that collective decisions against a particular agents will
turn into a form of alien control).28 Put differently, for Pettit domination-free
joint control requires that all agents equally share control, which entails that
all agents equally share in exercising influence on joint decisions.29 While
Pettits observations concern the make-up of a democratic state, we can use
some of Pettits ideas and apply them to workplace relationships.
Workplaces obviously differ from democratic states. However, in order to
avoid domination of workers by management and other forms of workplace
domination, we do need an account of legitimate authority, control and influence. 30 Following Pettit, I think that for managerworker relationships the
solution does indeed lie in giving each and every worker a fair share within a
system of joint control. As Pettit points out, the idea of being equals imposes

26
Philip Pettit, On the Peoples Terms: A Republican Theory and Model of Democracy
(Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2012), 6769 and 167179.
27
Pettit, On the Peoples Terms, 168.
28
Pettit, On the Peoples Terms, 167.
29
Pettit, On the Peoples Terms, 169.
30
A s pointed out earlier, Itake it to be compatible with the ideal of social equality that managers will have a certain amount of authority and decision-making power over workers, since
Iassume that certain inequalities in power and authority are unavoidable. That is to say, Ido not
assume that within a social egalitarian society only collectivist cooperatives are legitimate and all
other forms of more hierarchical enterprises/firms illegitimate. Joint control and influence then
is about fair shares not strictly equal shares in control and influence.

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on all members of a collective a constraint, namely that it is impossible for


any agent to be in full personal control of all their affairs. At the same time
any differences in power (over somebody) can only be legitimate if each and
every agent shares in control and influence. Democratic procedures in relevant
decision-making would give each and every member of a corporation a fair
share in control and influence. Without such democratic mechanisms workers
will remain vulnerable to arbitrary interference by their management. 31
Therefore, since social egalitarians should be concerned with relationships
of domination, we should tackle structural domination within workplaces. For
managerworker relationships this entails that workplaces with hierarchical
structures and vast differences in power need to be democratized with regard
to major decisions, since democratic control offers a form of individualized
joint control that protects workers against domination at work. Having such
democratic structures would both bestow legitimacy onto decisions and safeguard that workers relevant interests are tracked.
As Scheffler rightly observed, differences of rank, power, and status are
endemic to human social life.32 But by democratizing hierarchical manager
worker relationships we can address domination in the workplace by making
sure that any interfering decisions are legitimate and that workers relevant
interests are not ignored. Thus, our discussion of workplace relationships
showed how social egalitarians should respond to domination-causing differences in power and authority. However, the ideal of social equality also tracks
other differences, for instance those in wealth and esteem, as the next subsection will show.

5.2.2 RichPoor Relationships


For many people, the difference between the rich and poor is the fundamental battleground of the egalitarian struggle. However, it is worth pointing out
that social egalitarians other than strict distributive egalitarians do not believe
that the simple fact that agent Ais richer than agent B is necessarily morally
problematic. If the relationship between Aand B turns out to be incompatible with the ideal of social equality in virtue of the fact that Ais richer than
B, the difference in wealth must have some objectionable effects, as specified
by ONeills list, which Icited earlier. In other words, for social egalitarians
differences in material holdings in themselves are not the cause of complaint.
In order to avoid replacing one form of domination with another, it is crucial that the democratic procedures we introduce are not simply majoritarian, since such a system would possibly
lead to a tyranny of the majority. See Breen, Freedom, Republicanism.
32
Scheffler, Choice, Circumstance, 225.
31

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So what exactlyfrom the viewpoint of social equality is at stake when we


discuss richpoor relationships?
In this section, my analysis of richpoor relationships will focus on two
issues that are central to social egalitarian concerns, namely, inequalities in
wealth and inequalities in esteem. 33 As Iwill argue, the differences in wealth
and esteem that widely exist between the rich and the poor are often incompatible with the ideal of social equality. However, as pointed out above, not all
inequalities in wealth are objectionable from the viewpoint of social equality.
Moreover, the same holds true for inequalities in esteem. Thus, the aim of this
section is to show when inequalities in wealth and esteem render a relationship
inegalitarian and for which reason(s). 34
A. Inequalities in Wealth

While not every difference in wealth and income seems problematic, since
wealth is normally cashed out in monetary terms and since money is (almost)
an all-purpose good, which is easy to convert into other goods and benefits, differences in wealth do seem to raise a host of issues because of their far-reaching
effects. While the equation more money=better lives certainly is too crude,
many differences in wealth, coupled with certain structural and institutional
problems, do matter from the viewpoint of social equality. Let me briefly discuss two examples, one that focuses on actual inequalities in wealth and one
that shows how inequalities in wealth can in conjunction with institutional
shortcomings turn into harmful structural inequalities.
First, income inequality and differences in wealth often lead to relative
deprivation. Relative deprivation simply means that while a person P has
enough income and wealth so as to meet his/her basic needs, in relevant comparison to others this person P suffers from deprivation, since Ps income and
wealth is insufficient to engage in a range of socially established and valuable
practices. Failing to engage in these practices will block relevant opportunities, lead to stigmatization and undermine Ps status as an equal member of
society. Thus, what counts as relative deprivation very much depends on the
effects of not engaging in particular activities and the value that is generally
attached to being able to engage in these particular activities. While there are
many activities that wealthy person W can afford that P cannot afford, this
does not necessarilyin itselfmean that P suffers from morally relevant
Itake differences in wealth to include differences in income, since income forms part of a
persons wealth.
34
I n this section, Iwill ignore issues of absolute deprivation, as they fall in the realm of basic
need satisfaction, which Ialready mentioned in section 5.1.
33

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119

relative deprivation. If, however, the activity W performs is generally seen to


be necessary for leading a fulfilled and decent life (such as for instance being
able to afford engaging in social activities like going to the cinema or meeting
up for a drink), Ps inability to afford this activity might indeed be considered
a case of relative deprivation. What counts as relative deprivation is context
dependent: thus the Finnish government for example decided that having
affordable high-speed internet access for all was a matter of social equality, a
judgment that might not hold in other countries. However, the key point is that
relative deprivation that prevents one group of society, or a certain individual,
from interacting with the other members of society as equals violates the ideal
of social equality.
Second, in some cases differences in wealth chiefly become problematic in
conjunction with certain institutional issues, which ultimately lead to structural inequalities. Take the following case:child Acomes from a wealthy background. In fact, As parents earn enough money so that one of As parents can
spend a lot of time with A.Thus, Agets a lot of love, care, and personal attention. Moreover, Agets sent to an exclusive crche (which costs a fee), where
children learn many valuable skills for their upcoming school education.
Because of all these benefits Aalready knows quite a lot by the time Aenters
school. B meanwhile comes from a background where both parents have to
work long hours to make ends meet. B also gets love, care, and personal attention but a little less than A.B also gets sent to a crche, but one that is less
exclusive and one where children are mainly left alone, so that they can play
and explore on their own. However, by the time B enters school B has a smaller
set of school-ready skills thanA.
So is this difference in early child-care a problem from the viewpoint of
social equality? Not necessarily. While Aseems to enjoy a privileged upbringing, Bs life sounds nice as well. In fact, some might even think that a crche
where children are simply left alone and allowed to play on their own terms
is nicer (or pedagogically more attractive) than a crche where children get
trained at an early age. Moreover, many of us might be concerned with interfering with parents freedom and educational choices, especially since neither
set of parents seems to have done anything wrong; both sets of parents try to
be the best parents they can be. So why do Ibring up this case?
The reason is educational (im)mobility. In countries such as Germany and
the UK educational mobility is low. That is to say, early childhood differences
in knowledge and skills often fail to be mitigated by the educational system.
So, in the example above, the likelihood of Abeing more successful throughout school (and thus also beyond school) than B is rather large, simply by virtue of the fact that Ais more school-ready than B.If a school system does not
offer all children, independent of their respective backgrounds and entry-day

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skill levels, fair and equal opportunity to succeed, already early childhood differences can have significant effects. 35 In fact, the educational system plays a
key role since schools supposedly filter pupils according to natural inequalities (i.e. differences in intellect and ambition) not social inequalities. If, however, early differences in school-readiness, which often are directly connected
to background inequalities in the parents wealth, fail to be addressed and
mitigated social inequalities will become naturalized.
From the viewpoint of social equality this means that the background institutions of society must indeed be designed in such a way so as to treat all members of society as equals. Doing so implies giving special attention to those
who are less well-off (in whichever respect) in order to make sure that trivial
inequalities do not become institutionally transformed into relevant social disadvantages. Of course, this does not only hold for the educational system but
also for other institutions. If a legal system that relies on expensive legal representation puts people with lower financial means at risk of losing everything,
simply because they want to bring a dispute before the court, rich and poor
members of society cannot be considered equals. Similarly, if an economic and
tax system makes it easy for already well-off people to get richer, while making
it difficult for less well-off people to improve their lot and that of their children,
the institutions of the state and the economy do not seem to treat all people as
equals. This is particularly true in cases in which money more or less translates
directly into social and political influence. In such a system, policy-making is
unduly and overproportionally influenced by the wealthy and their particular
interests, thus undermining the idea of social equality. Thus, as social egalitarians we should be sensitive to both inequalities in wealth with direct negative
effects and the institutional requirements of what could be called the political
economy of social justice, that is, the nexus between wealth differences and
so-called structural inequalities.
B. Inequalities in Esteem

Apart from the issues Imentioned above, richpoor relationships also raise the
issue of differences in esteem, since inequalities in wealth and their associated
Heike Solga and Rosine Dombrowski, Soziale Ungleichheiten in schulischer und auerschulischer Bildung, Hans Bckler Stiftung Arbeitspapier 171 (2009); Wendy Johnson, Caroline
Brett and Ian Deary, The Pivotal Role of Education in the Association between Ability and
Social Class Attainment:ALook across Three Generations, Intelligence 38, no. 1 (2010):5565;
Ian Deary etal, Intergenerational Social Mobility and Mid-Life Status Attainment:Influences
of Childhood Intelligence, Childhood Social Factors, and Education, Intelligence 33, no.
5 (2005): 455472; Christopher Ruhm and Jane Waldfogel, Long-Term Effects of Early
Childhood Care and Education, Nordic Economic Policy Review 1, no. 1 (2012):2351.
35

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relative deprivation are often transformed into inequalities in recognition and


esteem. This is of course not to say that all esteem can be traced back to wealth.
For my analysis here, Ionly take the idea of wealth-related esteem as the starting point for a general discussion of differences in esteem and their compatibility with the ideal of social equality.
Generally speaking, from the viewpoint of social equality not all differences in esteem are objectionable. 36 Differences in esteem are an unavoidable part of human societies. In fact, by its very nature, esteem seems to be
somewhat inegalitarian, since esteeming a person means singling out that
person above and beyond others. In other words, esteem is a positional good.
However, while some differences in esteem are compatible with social equality, others are not.
One problematic issue with esteem is that those who are rich are regularly esteemed without proper cause, since high income and material wealth
are often equated with intelligence, expertise, and authority. 37 Inequalities
in wealth thus have a recognition dimension and depending on how social
(mis)recognition and (dis)esteem are handed out, the resulting relationships
can be in conflict with the ideal of social equality. Dynamics of social esteem
recognition often strengthen and widen existing material inequalities, leading
to a system of unjust rewards, when the less well-off get stigmatized and suffer from self-alienation, and the rich get esteem above and beyond what they
deserve. 38 In short, wealth-related esteem is problematic when the grounds for
(dis)esteeming do not track attributes that are the proper bases for unequal
esteem, so for instance when esteem simply follows money rather than skills,
achievements, or deeds.
Moreover, inequalities in wealth often seem to lead to inequalities in esteem,
for instance because the wealthy enjoy more opportunities to get esteemed, or
because the wealthy have greater influence on determining what kind of skills,
achievements, or deeds will be esteemed. However, while it is certainly true
that the grounds for esteem matter and that a society of equals cannot be a
society in which only one group of people determines what will be esteemed,
or opportunities for getting esteemed are distributed overly unequally, we
can also object to differences in esteem based on the nature of the esteem in
question.

36
See Carina Fouries essay in this book for a detailed account of how social egalitarians
might want to respond to inequalities in esteem.
37
For a discussion of how social recognition and esteem often go the wrong way, see Cillian
McBride, Recognition (London:Polity, 2013), especially Chapter3.
38
For a journalistic account of these dynamics see Polly Toynbee and David Walker, Unjust
Rewards (London:Granta, 2008).

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In its most basic form, esteem is a form of respect, appreciation, approval,


recognition or praise, which tracks a particular attribute of a person. Thus,
Ican esteem somebody for being honest, or for being faster than me. Similarly,
Ican disesteem a person, for instance, for being dishonest. However, practices
of esteem and disesteem are not allowed to conflict with the basic respect and
recognition we owe all persons. Thus, practices of disesteeming that actually
disrespect and misrecognize others, for instance by suggesting that all people
with a certain trait are inferior, are incompatible with social equality. 39 This
includes practices that create stigmatizing differences in status, no matter
whether these status differences are based on esteem or disesteem. That is to
say, inequalities in esteem are not only objectionable when disesteem turns
into disrespect, misrecognition, and stigma but also whenever positive esteem
turns into privilege.
When esteem turns into privilege, singular instances of positive recognition and praise get transformed into fixed differences in status and
influence. Privilege is not based on particular and discernible skills, achievements, or deeds, because privilege is the right(s) of the socially superior.
Nowadays, privilege is not anymore the right of the aristocracy but the right
of the really well-off, the elite. The way in which privilege works, though,
has not changed; by creating artificial social divisions and status hierarchies, privilege undermines peoples self-respect, leads to servile behavior
(towards the supposedly superior elite), and creates a culture of anticipatory obedience among the poor. It is precisely because of these effects that
privilege-generating inequalities of esteem are incompatible with the ideal
of social equality.
Overall, then, whether richpoor relationships are objectionable (or not)
from the viewpoint of social equality depends on the case in question. In
some cases, inequalities in wealth lead more or less directly to stigmatizing
differences in social status. In other cases differences in income and wealth
become problematic in conjunction with the creation of structural inequalities. Moreover, inequalities in wealth are often tightly connected with inequalities in esteem. Not only can wealth unduly influence the grounds of esteem
and peoples opportunities for esteem, but it can also determine what gets
esteemed. In addition, many inequalities of esteem create stigmatizing differences in social status, especially in cases in which disesteem becomes disrespect, and esteem turns to privilege. Thus, social egalitarians have good reason
A s Erving Goffmans classic text on stigma shows, stigma is often attributed to those who
simply differ from a perceived norm. Thus, stigma is also a marker of racist, sexist and other
discriminating societies. Erving Goffman, Stigma:Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity
(NewYork:Simon & Schuster, 1963).
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123

to be sensitive to inequalities in wealth and esteem and their effect on rich


poor relationships.

5.2.3 Gender(ed) Relationships


In addition to the cases discussed above (i.e. inequalities in power and authority,
and inequalities in wealth and esteem), social equality also offers us a tool for
criticizing certain kinds of sociocultural practices, for instance with regard to
gender(ed) relationships.40 Gendered relationships are relationships in which a
person P is not treated like a comparable person Q because of the operation of
socially implicit gender biases. In many cases these biases form part of a societal
practice of gender misrecognition, which not only might have adverse effects on
a persons conception of herself and her self-respect, but also presents a violation
of social equality.41 The reasons social equality can be violated through gendered
relationships are thus i) that within these relationships a person P is not seen
as an equal, ii) that sociocultural practices of gendering often create stigmatizing conceptions of gendered social roles, and iii) that repeated instances of gendered misrecognition can both undermine a persons self-respect and lead her
to adopting conforming behavior, that is, behavior in line with existing biases.
Let me briefly illustrate these points with the help of two examples.
An excellent example of problematic gender relationships can be found in
the literature on epistemic injustice.42 Through stereotypes and the abuse of
social power women often become victims of epistemic injustice, be it as unappreciated knowers, mistrusted testifiers, or as outcasts of the public economy
of authority and credibility. It is important to note that instances of epistemic
injustice against women are often unintentional. Men often behave in a certain way towards women, especially within discursive practices, and misrecognize womens contributions, not realizing that they operate with a deeply
gender-biased conception of social roles, powers, and attitudes.43 Needless to

Iwill focus here on gender relationships. However, the points Imake also apply to cases of
racial, ethnic, religious, and other biases.
41
There are, of course, cases in which gendered relationships might not be a violation of social
equality. However, in many cases, social structures of gendering lead to deeply inegalitarian
outcomes.
42
Miranda Fricker, Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2007). While the debate is referred to as the epistemic injustice debate, Ido
not want to claim here that all cases of epistemic injustice should indeed be seen as injustices. My
discussion here is concerned with social inequality not social injustice.
43
I n fact, nowadays there even is a word for everyday instances of male discursive misrecognition of a womans knowledge, capacity, authority:mansplaining. The term mansplaining has
become somewhat synonymous for male arrogance in conversation.
40

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say, such practices are problematic from the viewpoint of social equality and
even though the cause of such behavior might lie in socially established gendered relationships this behavior is wrong and objectionable from the viewpoint of social equality.
However, gendered relationships are not only an issue for the interaction
between males and females, as Sharon Krause points out. Moreover, another
difficulty with socially established practices of gender stereotyping is that a
person Q who actually misrecognizes person P because of his/her gender will
often not even be aware of not treating P equally to other members of society:
Norms of femininity continue to emphasize deference, compliancy
and other qualities that are antithetical to our understanding of
authority. As a result, what counts as a confidence-inspiring authoritative demeanor in a man makes a woman seem strident, overly
demanding, nastyeven to other women. Public aversion to this
demeanor impedes womens efforts to exercise authority effectively
and thereby undercuts the exercise of their agency. Of course, most
people do not intend to obstruct womens freedom; their aversion to
what appears to them as unfeminine behavior is not exactly a choice.44
As both these examples show, socially operating gender norms can both
undercut a persons agency as a free and equal member of society and lead to
self-respect undermining adaptive behavior. Whenever such instances occur,
sociocultural practices of stereotyping become clearly problematic from the
viewpoint of social equality. Considering that existing societies are ripe with
gendered relationships of this kind, social equality seems to be a powerful
idea for criticizing such practices. Moreover, our analysis of gender relationships has shown that social egalitarians should not only be concerned with
large inequalities in power, wealth, and esteem but also with the cumulative
effects of seemingly independent sociocultural practices, since issues like gender stereotyping are not caused by one intentional agent but through an often
uncoordinated and complex set of somewhat unrelated actions and attitudes.
If my analysis throughout this essay is correct, social equality is a demanding normative ideal that offers us relatively clear guidelines for determining
what kind of social relationships are compatible with it. For instance, social
equality seems incompatible with states of domination, status differences
based on privilege or gender stereotypes, as well as with stigmatizing differences in esteem. Moreover, social egalitarians have good reason to be sensitive
Sharon Krause, Beyond Non-Domination: Agency, Inequality, and the Meaning of
Freedom, Philosophy & Social Criticism 39, no. 2 (2013):187208, at 193.
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125

to the background conditions for social equality and how seemingly unobjectionable differences in wealth and esteem can become structural inequalities
that undermine social equality.
This account of the nature of social egalitarian relationships, though, also
tells us a lot about the range of social equality. That is to say, social equality
is a demanding normative ideal that challenges us to critically reassess many
social relationships we stand in. What we will learn from such a reassessment
will in large part depend on how we conceive of the value of social equality,
especially in relation to other values, such as individual freedom, or the ideal
of social justice. After all, thus far I have focused on the question of which
relationships should be deemed inegalitarian and which should not. However,
whether inegalitarian relationships are necessarily unjust is another question.
Due to space constraints, unfortunately Icannot delve deeper into the issue of
balancing concerns for social equality with other important concerns, especially those of justice. However, it seems clear that if social equality is part
of our conception of justice, we need institutions that on the one hand can
address the harms identified in section 5.1, while on the other hand protecting
each and every citizens free and responsible agency. In other words, it should
be clear that if social equality were to require a large apparatus of paternalist
interference mechanisms, the ideal of social equality would lose much of its
initial appeal (or possibly even contradict itself). However, while Iam certain
that social egalitarian considerations have an important role to play when discussing issues of social justice, this is an argument Icannot defend here. All
Iwanted to argue today is that social equality is a powerful normative ideal
and that it identifies certain forms of relationships as inegalitarian.

5.3Conclusion
As stated at the beginning, my aim in this essay was to flesh out what social
equality entails by looking at a range of different relationships and why these
could be considered incompatible with the ideal of social equality. By choosing
a variety of examples, Ihoped to show that social equality is actually a quite
demanding and complex ideal and to clarify what social egalitarian relationships look like. Social equality is important because it protects our agency as
free and equal members of society. However, as Martin ONeills list of possible social inequality induced harms shows, our agency is in many different
areas under threat. Therefore, in the interest of social equality we should be
concerned with a wide range of social relationships and their effects on peoples
status as free and equals. The ideal of social equality provides us with a tool to
critically challenge different forms of social inequality, no matter whether in

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the workplace, in terms of inequalities in esteem, or in the form of gender stereotypes. While plenty of work on social equality as a normative ideal remains
to be done, Ihope that my discussion here provided some clarification as to
what social equality demands and what kind of relationships can be considered (in)compatible with the ideal.

Acknowledgments
Previous versions of this essay were presented at the University of Zurichs
Centre for Ethics, at the University of Warwicks Centre for Ethics, Law and
Public Affairs and at the Political Theory Reading Group at Queens University
Belfast. I am grateful for useful and much needed feedback from the audiences on all three occasions. Further Iwould like to thank Franics Cheneval,
Matthew Clayton, Carina Fourie, Cillian McBride, Martin ONeill, Ed Page,
Sam Scheffler, Christian Seidel, and Ivo Wallimann-Helmer for extremely
helpful comments on earlier drafts of the essay.

PA R T I I

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN


EQUALITY, JUSTICE,
AND POLITICS

Justice, Respect, and Treating


People as Equals
A n dr e w M a son

Some believe that the ideal of social equality provides us with a very different
way of thinking about justice to approaches that start from the question of how
goods should be distributed among people.1 But insofar as this ideal offers a
vision of a society of equalsa society whose members have equal standing
because they are treated as equals, that is, as having equal inherent worth, not
only within its institutions and practices but also by each other in their ordinary interactionswe might wonder whether it takes us beyond what justice
alone requires of us in our treatment of one another, encompassing a broader
ideal of civic friendship or respectful behavior. In response, it might be said
that any failure to treat a person as an equal is an injustice, so there is no reason
to think that this conception of a society of equals takes us beyond justice. In
the present essay Ichallenge this response, arguing that social equality, when
it is understood in the way described, involves but extends further than what
justice requires of us.2

See especially Elizabeth Anderson, What is the Point of Equality? Ethics 109, no. 2
(1999): 287337; Samuel Scheffler, What is Egalitarianism? Philosophy &Public Affairs 31,
no. 1 (2003): 539. For relevant discussion, see also Christian Schemmel, Why Relational
Egalitarians Should Care About Distribution, Social Theory and Practice 37, no. 3 (2011):365
390; Carina Fourie, What is Social Equality? An Analysis of Status Equality as a Strongly
Egalitarian Ideal, Res Publica 18, no. 2 (2012):107126; Elizabeth Anderson, The Fundamental
Disagreement Between Luck Egalitarians and Relational Egalitarians, Canadian Journal of
Philosophy Supplementary vol. 36 (2012):123.
2
The view that social equality goes beyond what justice requires is also defended by David
Miller:see his Equality and Justice, in Ideals of Equality ed. Andrew Mason (Oxford:Blackwell,
1998). See also Martin ONeill, What Should Egalitarians Believe? Philosophy & Public Affairs
36, no. 2 (2008):119156, especially 133ff.
1

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My argument is developed by exploring a number of cases that suggest that


failing to treat others as equals is not always intrinsically unjust. In section 6.1,
Ipresent these cases and consider some ways in which this conclusion might be
resisted but argue that none are successful. These cases nevertheless cause varying
degrees of moral discomfort. In sections 6.2 through 6.4, Iexamine the resources
that are available to us in characterizing them in order to make sense of our unease
and to explain why we nevertheless think that they involve morally objectionable
behavior. Iask whether it is the disrespect shown that bothers us, or whether it
is the unjust effects that flow from these forms of behavior when they are widespread, or the failure to act as one should toward ones fellow citizens, or some
combination of these. Reflection on these questions brings into view an ideal of
social equality that includes but goes beyond what justice requires, grounded in
the value of recognition respect and in what Icall the good of equal membership.
Some may think that my argument involves an excessive and unhealthy
preoccupation with distinguishing justice from other values. There are at least
two different ways of thinking about justice that have a bearing on the issue
of whether the ideal of social equality goes beyond justice. The first way treats
justice as one value amongst several. This leaves scope for considerable debate
regarding what considerations fall under the rubric of justice3 and makes room
for my argument that social equality is an ideal partially distinct from justice.
(It also leaves scope for debate about how much weight considerations of justice possess, compared to considerations relating to other values, when evaluating states of affairs, designing institutions, or devising policies.) The second
way regards justice as an umbrella term that shelters any weighty consideration that is relevant to our evaluation of an outcome or a form of behavior or
to our judgments about how the basic structure of society should be designed.
According to this view, there can be very different kinds of considerations of
justice or very different aspects of justice, and indeed these may come into conflict with one another. From this perspective, if considerations of social equality
are, in general, weighty in our assessment of outcomes, forms of behavior, or
basic institutions, then they automatically count as considerations of justice.
Does it matter in the end which way we think about justice, that is, as one
value among several, or as a formal category to which any weighty evaluative consideration relevant to the assessment of actions, policies or institutions, gets assigned?4 Is it simply question-begging to accuse the latter view
3
See Patrick Tomlin, Internal Doubts about Cohens Rescue of Justice, Journal of Political
Philosophy 18, no. 2 (2010):228247, at p.242.
4
Conflicts between different considerations that are conceptualised on one model as conflicts between justice and other values will be conceptualised on the other model as conflicts
within justice, between different aspects of justice. Perhaps in this way the tragic conflicts that

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of encouraging confusion between justice and other values? G.A. Cohen has
argued that the principles that Rawls defends, such as the difference principle,
masquerade as principles of justice but smuggle in a commitment to values
such as Pareto efficiency and publicity that are conceptually distinct from
justice. 5 This accusation ultimately rests on an appeal to ordinary language
considerations:Cohen thinks it is intelligible to make claims such as, These
arrangements are just but unstable, or This distribution is just but it is not
Pareto efficient, or The application of this principle is not publicly checkable
but it is nevertheless a principle of justice. (And we might add to this that it
makes sense to say, This person is not being treated as an equal, but she is
nevertheless being treated justly.) Ishare this view and think that ordinary
language considerations do have some authority hereenough authority to
justify the idea that we should treat justice as one weighty value among several. 6
Critics will, however, demand an account of what justice is and what distinguishes it from these other values.7 Like Cohen, Ido not try to give a fully
satisfying answer to this question. But I suggest that a persons behavior
comes within the purview of justice only if it advantages or disadvantages
another or, at least, is intended to do so. Here disadvantage and advantage are to be understood broadly. A person is disadvantaged (or advantaged) if she is made worse off (or better off) when judged according to some
appropriate standard, whether in absolute or relative terms; or if she suffers
psychological harm (or receives psychological benefits); or if she is subjected to behavior that is part of a dominating relationship. This condition is
enough to prepare the ground for my argument that failing to treat people as
equals is not always intrinsically unjust. 8

Isaiah Berlin and others have argued are part of the human condition will become less visible in
the context of designing institutions or devising policy. But in the end, it is not clear that it would
lead to any necessary failure to appreciate the tragic political choices we have to make:see Tomlin,
Internal Doubts about Cohens Rescue of Justice, 243245.
5
G.A. Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
2008), Ch. 7.
6
The basic thought here is that in theoretical reflection there is a reason to respect the distinctions that are made in ordinary language unless they are confused in some way. This, of course,
allows us to develop new concepts and make further distinctions when our theorising would benefit from doing so.
7
Indeed a failure to do so is one of the charges that Andrew Williams levels against Cohen:see
Andrew Williams, Justice, Incentives and Constructivism, Ratio 21, no. 4 (2008):476493, at
p.491.
8
For those who are resistant to thinking of justice as one weighty value among several, what
follows should be understood as drawing attention to an important but neglected dimension of
what justice requires in our interactions with one another once the requirements of social equality
are worked out fully. If Iam wrong about the nature of justice, my argument is not merely semantic.

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6.1 Cases, Intuitions, and Responses


Let me begin with the cases that Ibelieve motivate the idea that failing to treat
people as equals is not always intrinsically unjust. (In principle, one case would
be enough, but presenting a variety of them makes the argument more persuasive
while at the same time giving reason to think that the kind of behavior to which
Iam drawing attention is more widespread that it might seem at first glance).
Local Shop. Aman refuses to shop at his local store because it is run by a
member of a particular ethnic minority. Instead, he walks to a store that is farther away and more expensive because it is run by someone from his own ethnic
group. It is not simply that he is opposed to the immigration policies that have
led to a rise in the numbers of people from this ethnic minority; it is because he
thinks that members of this group are inferior because they generally lack various qualities, such as honesty and integrity, that are widespread among members of his own ethnic group, so he does not want to give them his custom.
Moving House. Afamily moves out of their house because their new neighbors are from a particular ethnic minority. This is not because they are worried
about a fall in its market value because, say, the prejudices that are widespread
in their society may lead to a drop in demand for properties in a neighborhood
that has a high proportion of this ethnic group. Rather, they share those prejudices because they believe that members of this group are inferior and they do
not want to live next door to anyone who belongs to it.
School Choice. In selecting a school for their daughter, her parents look at the
ethnic composition of different schools. This is not because, say, they worry
about the effects of sending her to a school where many of the pupils speak a different first language or that a disproportionate amount of the schools resources
will be devoted to bringing pupils up to speed in the language of instruction, but
simply because they do not want her to associate with those from ethnic minorities. They would rather send their daughter to a school that is farther away, and
that scores less well in terms of the other qualities that they value in a school,
than send her to a school that has a high proportion of ethnic minority children
because they believe that those who belong to these minorities are inferior.
Cashier. When shopping at the supermarket, a man tries to avoid going
through a checkout that is being operated by a member of an ethnic minority. He would rather queue for longer or even shop elsewhere (perhaps paying
more money for his groceries) than have to interact with a cashier from that
minority because he believes that members of this minority are inferior.9
9
We might add to this description that if the customer has no choice but to go through this
till, he places his money on the counter rather than putting it in the hands of the cashier, so as to
avoid physical contact with him or her. See Lawrence Blum, Race, National Ideals, and Civic
Virtue, Social Theory and Practice 33, no. 4 (2007), 546551, for a discussion of such behavior.

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These cases should make us feel morally uncomfortable. But although in


each one there is a failure to treat the members of an ethnic minority as equals,
the behavior described does not seem to be intrinsically unjust. In the remainder of the section, Ishall clarify this claim and consider some potential ways of
resisting the idea that these cases are counterexamples to the view that failing
to treat others as equals is always intrinsically unjust.
The idea of an action being intrinsically unjust stands in need of further
elucidation. Let me stipulate that a failure to treat someone as an equal is
intrinsically unjust when it involves an injustice that is grounded solely in
those features of the action that make it a failure to do so. In a well-known
essay, Donald Davidson pointed out that there are often multiple descriptions of the same action:turning on the light may sometimes be redescribed
as alerting a prowler;10 so too, refusing to shop at ones local store can
sometimes be redescribed as failing to treat the shopkeeper as an equal. So
let me stipulate further that a description of a particular action that reveals
the features that make the action a failure to treat someone as an equal also
justifies the claim that this action is intrinsically unjust if and only if it justifies the claim that the action is unjust and that its injustice is grounded
solely in those features. So understood, there could in principle be cases in
which failing to treat others as equals is not intrinsically unjust without it
necessarily following that such a failing can never be intrinsically unjust. It
is intelligible, at least, to suppose that in a range of cases the descriptions
that reveal the particular features that make these cases failures to treat
other people as equals do not show that they involve any intrinsic injustice,
whereas in another range of cases the relevant descriptions might show that
an intrinsic injustice is involved. For example, it might be that the failure to
treat another as an equal that is involved in Cashier is not intrinsically unjust,
whereas the failure to do so that is involved in an employer denying a woman
a job because he believes that members of the ethnic group to which she
belongs are inferior is intrinsically unjust. After all, in the case of Cashier no
one seems to be disadvantaged by the lack of interaction described, unlike
in the case where a woman is denied a job as a result of an employers belief
in her inferiority. Both are failures to treat people as equals but the particular features in each case that make that so (not interacting with the cashier
because of a belief in the inferiority of the ethnic group to which she belongs
in the first case; refusing the woman a job because of a similar belief in the

10
See Donald Davidson, Actions, Reasons and Causes, Journal of Philosophy 60, no. 23
(1963):685700. Reprinted in his Essays on Actions and Events, second edition (Oxford:Oxford
University Press, 2001).

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second) differ in such a way that arguably in the second case that failure is
intrinsically unjust whereas in the first it is not.
Do the intuitive judgments Iam relying on involve assuming that the victims in each case are unaware of the fact that they have not been treated as
equals? If the victims were assumed to be aware of the way in which they were
being treated, would we still be inclined to say that the behavior to which they
were subject was not intrinsically unjust? We should not suppose that a person
can be treated in a way that denies her equal moral worth only if she is aware
of that happening. My argument gets off the ground so long as it is possible
for there to be cases of the sort Ibelieve Ihave described, in which a person
is unaware that she is not being treated as an equal but no intrinsic injustice
is involved. Even when the victim is aware that she is not being treated as an
equal, unless the failure to do so disadvantages her in some way, or at least is
intended to do so, it is unclear that the concept of justice has any purchase. Of
course, if she feels humiliated, or suffers from damage to her self-respect as a
result of being aware that she is at the receiving end of this kind of behavior,
then the concept of justice gets a foothold. But if that happens, any injustice
involved is extrinsic rather than intrinsic to the failure to treat her as an equal
since it relies on these psychological effects, yet these effects are not required
in order for it to be true that she has not been treated as an equal.
Might it be argued that failing to treat people as equals is always intrinsically unjust, but only pro tanto unjust, and that we have a right of free association that in some cases permits us to act unjustly in this way? Perhaps we are
tempted to err in thinking that failing to treat people as equals is not always
intrinsically unjust because in these cases we focus on the fact that this right is
being exercised legitimately and neglect the element of injustice that is nevertheless involved in its exercise.
This is not the place to provide a full analysis of the right of freedom of
association, its grounding, and its scope. But it does not seem to me that this
diagnosis illuminates the cases Ihave described since it is difficult to see them
as exercises of a right of free association at all. With the possible exception of
School Choice, the interactions that are being avoided hardly count as refusing
association and the interests that are protected by such a right do not seem
to be at stake in them. Furthermore, any plausible analysis of the right of free
association will acknowledge that it has limits, and that it does not give one the
right to exclude others whenever one wants or on whatever basis one chooses.
It is therefore questionable whether such a right ever permits people to exclude
in a way that involves an injustice. For example, when access to important
goods or networks is at stake, the exclusion of women or members of ethnic
minority groups from an association generally involves an injustice. In these
cases, the opportunity-interests of those excluded are damaged in such a way

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that they are being discriminated against unjustly and there is good reason to
think that the right of free association does not license such exclusions.11 Given
the limited scope of the right to free association, it is unclear whether there is
any space for the idea of an exercise of that right that is unjust because it fails to
treat some as equals but that is nevertheless morally permissible.
In a further response to my claim that the forms of behavior described earlier do not involve any intrinsic injustice, it might be argued that this claim
rests on an implicit assumption that is open to question, namely, that principles of justice apply only to the basic structure of society, and to the behavior
of individuals only in so far as they are acting as occupants of particular roles
that are part of this structure, not to behavior that merely takes place within
it. According to this view, when people act as public officials, their behavior is
governed by principles of justice, but not when they act merely as consumers,
house-buyers, or parents. But the idea that principles of justice apply only to
the basic structure of society has been challenged,12 so if my interpretation of
the cases Ihave described rests on that idea, then it is on shaky ground.
Let me simply assume for the sake of argument that the restriction of principles of justice to the basic structure in this way is indefensible. If we remove this
restriction, would this then give us reason to mistrust our intuitions, depriving
us of any further reason to resist the idea that failing to treat people as equals
is always intrinsically unjust? Would it mean that we lacked any basis for not
regarding the forms of behavior Ihave described as intrinsically unjust? It might
be argued that when we act as occupants of roles that are part of the basic structure, principles of justice require us to treat those who are also subject to this
structure as equals, so if these principles apply not only to the basic structure
but also to personal behavior that takes place within it or in its shadow, then they
will require us to treat others as equals in that behaviorincluding the cases
Ihave described.
But even if we cannot justify restricting principles of justice to the basic
structure, there is still the question of precisely what principles should govern
personal behavior. We should not simply assume that the same principles of
justice that apply to the basic structure, and to those acting as occupants of
particular roles that are part of this structure, should also apply to personal
See Stuart White, Freedom of Association and the Right to Exclude, Journal of Political
Philosophy 5, no. 4 (1997):373391, especially pp. 382385.
12
For relevant discussion, see Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality, Part I; Liam Murphy,
Institutions and the Demands of Justice, Philosophy & Public Affairs 27, no. 4 (1998):251291;
Thomas Pogge, On the Site of Distributive Justice:Reflections on Cohen and Murphy, Philosophy
& Public Affairs 29, no. 2 (2000):137169; Andrew Williams, Incentives, Inequality, and Publicity,
Philosophy & Public Affairs 27, no. 3 (1998): 225247; David Estlund, Liberalism, Equality, and
Fraternity in Cohens Critique of Rawls, The Journal of Political Philosophy 6, no. 1 (1998):99112.
11

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behavior or to roles that are not part of this structure.13 We might be monists
and suppose that the same principles apply to both, but we do not have to be.
We might instead be dualists and suppose that at least partly different sets
of principles apply to each. Even if justice requires us to treat people as equals
when we act as public officials or perform other roles defined by the basic structure, it does not follow that justice itself requires us to do so outside of these
roles. Indeed my interpretation of the cases described earlier can be viewed in
part as an attempt to defend a dualist perspective of this kind.
It would be a mistake to think that what is doing the work in my argument is
an appeal to some priorand as yet untheorizeddistinction between public and private spheres of action. Iam not supposing that the behavior Iam
describing is private, in the sense that it should not be of concern from the
point of view of public policy. For reasons that Igive later in this essay, Ithink
we should have moral concerns about these forms of behavior, and nothing
Isay rules out the possibility that these concerns may be sufficient to justify
some sort of response from the state, such as public condemnation. My claim is
simply about whether the behavior in the cases described earlier can properly
be regarded as intrinsically unjust. If it cannot be regarded in this way, then
failing to treat people as equals is not always intrinsically unjust and the vision
Ihave outlined of a society of equals appears to include but go beyond what
justice itself requires.

6.2 Unjust Effects


If the forms of behavior described in section 6.1 are not intrinsically unjust, what
explains our moral unease about them? One answer would be that it is simply
their unjust effects. If this is the correct answer, then we do not need to postulate an ideal of social equality that goes beyond what justice requires in order to
make sense of that unease, and indeed the value and significance of social equality could be accommodated within a fully developed theory of justice.
There is no doubt that an act can be unjust in terms of its effects even if
it is not intrinsically unjust. Indeed it might be thought that even paradigm
cases of unjust discrimination, in which, say, a member of an ethnic group is
denied a particular job or a place at a particular university because that group
is regarded as inferior, involve no intrinsic injustice, for the injustice of the discrimination depends on the way in which a pattern of exclusion of this kind
See Murphy, Institutions and the Demands of Justice; Carina Fourie, Justice and the
Duties of Social Equality (PhD diss., University College London, 2007); Seana Shiffrin,
Incentives, Motives, and Talents, Philosophy & Public Affairs 38, no. 2 (2010):111142.
13

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means that the opportunities of members of a group are systematically diminished.14 (This might even make us start to wonder whether there are any cases
of failing to treat others as equals that involve an intrinsic injustice).
It is also clear that in some of the cases sketched earlier, the victims of the
behavior described are made somewhat worse off than they would otherwise have
been. In Local Shop, the shopkeeper loses some custom that he would otherwise
have had; in School Choice, the pupils at the school may be losing the opportunity
to interact with a fellow pupil in a way that would enhance their educational experience (and indeed the daughter might be deprived of the opportunity of being
educated in a multicultural environment). Although these particular effects may
not by themselves seem to raise any significant issue of justice, they appear to do
so when they are part of a wider pattern of behavior. In Local Shop, if others follow
suit, the shopkeeper may end up considerably worse off than she would otherwise
have been because of the custom that she loses, and she may even be driven out
of business, especially when others are encouraged to behave in a similar fashion.
The way in which individual actions may be repeated across a society also
explains how they may have a variety of bad effects, some of which are not simply
material. Taken together these individual actions may create what Ishall call
an accumulative harm, and this accumulative harm may be either expressive or
nonexpressive.15 Let me stipulate that an accumulative harm occurs when none
of the individual actions involved are harmful, but taken together, they cause
harm. One paradigm case is perhaps that of environmental emissions. Although
each car pollutes the environment, no individual car causes any harm to it. (Here
Iam assuming that its emissions could be absorbed without any negative effect
at all on the environment). It is only when the emissions of different cars are
combined together that they can properly be said to harm the environment and
other people in virtue of doing so. This is an example of a nonexpressive accumulative harm. The effects created by Moving House and School Choice, when
they are reproduced across a society, can be similar:they may result in the informal segregation of groups, and they may mean that some lack access to social
networks and other kinds of social capital, which result in them suffering from
14
I n fact Iwould resist the idea that the wrongness involved when a belief in the moral inferiority of a candidate influences an appointment to an advantaged social position derives solely
from its place in a wider pattern, such as the way in which a pattern of discrimination systematically diminishes the opportunities of members of a group. In cases in which a failure to
treat a person as an equal involves depriving her of an important good, such as a job, my view
is that it is also intrinsically unjust as a result. For a critique of this view, however, see Kasper
Lippert-Rasmussen, Born Free and Equal? APhilosophical Inquiry into the Nature of Discrimination
(Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2014), especially Chs. 4 and 6.
15
See Andrew Kernohan, Liberalism, Equality, and Cultural Oppression (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1998), 7175.

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material disadvantage.16 These patterns of behavior may also be part of dominating relationships in which some exercise arbitrary power over others.
There are also expressive accumulative harms. As a result of being subject
to a pattern of behavior involving a variety of different individuals failing to
treat them as equals, the victims receive the message that they are regarded as
inferior; they may then feel humiliated and internalize a sense of their own inferiority, that is, suffer damage to their self-respect and self-esteem. This can be
a consequence not only in cases such as Moving House and School Choice, but
also Cashier and Local Shop. Once a pattern of this kind has been established,
even individual acts tend to have harmful effects as a result of being seen as part
of this pattern. Indeed it might plausibly be claimed that, when such a pattern
has developed, the individual acts concerned can be unjust independently of
their effects because of the meanings they express. This would not entitle us to
say that they were intrinsically unjust, since their injustice depends in part on
extrinsic properties, namely, their place in a pattern of behavior that has a particular significance. But might it, together with an appeal to the unjust effects
of these actions, fully explain why we are morally uneasy about failures to treat
people as equals even when they are not intrinsically unjust? If it were a sufficient explanation of why these acts are morally problematic, we would not need
to appeal to any account of social equality that takes us beyond justice. There
remains a suspicion, however, that there is something objectionable about the
individual acts involved independently of their role in generating harms or
expressing objectionable meanings. These acts would seem to be morally problematicperhaps even morally wrongeven if they did not play such a role.

6.3Disrespect
What reason might be given for holding that the acts Ihave described, considered individually and independently of any harmful effects or objectionable
meanings they may have, are morally objectionable? In claiming that not treating people as equals is morally wrong even when it is not intrinsically unjust,
and even when it does not produce or contribute to harmful or unjust effects
or express objectionable meanings, have we simply reached bedrock? One possibility would be that it is always morally objectionable to fail to treat a person
as an equal because it is always disrespectful to do so, even when there is no
16
Elizabeth Anderson has also argued forcefully that the segregation of African Americans is
the underlying cause of many of the injustices from which they suffer, including lack of fair access
to jobs, public goods, consumer goods and services, and various forms of capital (see Elizabeth
Anderson, The Imperative of Integration (Princeton, NJ:Princeton University Press, 2010), especially Chs. 14.

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intrinsic injustice involved and even when the context is such that no objectionable meaning is expressed. Ido not think that the principle that we should
treat people with respect gives us independent grounds for thinking that we
should treat them as equals, but it may provide an explanation of what it means
to treat people as equals that deepens our understanding of why the failure to
do so is always morally objectionable.
Someone who holds that we have an obligation always to treat others with
respect need not believe that it is the foundational principle of the whole of
our morality, as Kant arguably did.17 Our obligation to respect persons might
simply be regarded as one important component of an adequate moral outlook. This is not an uncontroversial position, however; it competes with the
view that the idea of respect for persons is purely formal, and that we respect
persons whenever we act in accordance with the duties that we owe to them.
So understood, the idea of respecting persons would not be an independent
source of moral duties.18 What then might be said in favor of the opposing view,
that it is such a source?
In a well-known paper, Stephen Darwall distinguishes between appraisal
respect and recognition respect.19 Recognition respect in relation to persons
requires giving appropriate weight in ones practical deliberations to facts about
persons, and regulating ones conduct in a way that gives due consideration to
those facts. In contrast, appraisal respect involves a positive appraisal of a person in virtue of their qualities, that is, features of them that manifest excellence
of one kind or another.20 Giving recognition respect to other people, we might
say, involves giving appropriate acknowledgement of their intrinsic value in
ones thoughts and actions, which at the very least means acting in ways that are
consistent with their intrinsic value. Of the two notions of respect that Darwall
distinguishes, it is this one that offers us the best hope of explaining what is
wrong with the failure to treat others as equals, but two questions need addressing. First, what is the intrinsic value of persons? Second, what kinds of thoughts
and actions, if any, are ruled out if one is to give appropriate acknowledgement
of their intrinsic value? Iam going to put aside the second question and simply assume that the forms of behavior described in the cases in section 6.1 do
involve a failure to give appropriate acknowledgement of the intrinsic value of
For a critique of this idea, see William K.Frankena, The Ethics of Respect for Persons,
Philosophical Topics 14, no. 2 (1986):149167, at p.149.
18
See Joseph Raz, Value, Respect, and Attachment (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press,
2001), 126.
19
Stephen Darwall, Two Kinds of Respect, Ethics 88, no. 1 (1977):3649.
20
Ishare Joseph Razs view that this is not so much a distinction between two types of respect
as a distinction between two types of objects of respect that place different demands on us:see
Raz, Value, Respect, and Attachment, 137, n.17.
17

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the ethnic minority members who are subject to this behavior. Indeed the failure to treat them as equals seems to amount to nothing other than the failure
to give them equal recognition respect. But this makes the first question, concerning the intrinsic value of persons, more pressing and indeed invites a third
question:why are persons entitled to equal recognition respect?
What then is the intrinsic value of persons? Here it is worth distinguishing between the notion of intrinsic value and the notion of noninstrumental
value.21 Let me stipulate that intrinsic value is the value that something has
in virtue of its intrinsic properties, that is, properties that do not depend even
in part on the existence or nature of anything else. 22 In contrast, extrinsic
value is the value that something has in virtue of its extrinsic properties, that
is, properties that depend at least in part on the existence or nature of something else. If something has merely instrumental value, then its value is purely
extrinsic. But something may have extrinsic but noninstrumental value, for
example, something may have noninstrumental value partly in virtue of its
rarity or unusualness. Armed with these distinctions, we can identify two
types of noninstrumental value, one of which makes its possessor intrinsically
valuable, whereas the other makes its possessor extrinsically valuable. (Here
Iam following Joseph Raz, though using different terminology since he treats
intrinsic value as a synonym for noninstrumental value). 23 Awork of art
can have noninstrumental aesthetic value, but that value seems to be extrinsic
because it is dependent on the existence of those who are capable of appreciating aesthetic value. In contrast, valuersthat is, those who are both capable of
giving recognition respect to what is of value, and capable of engaging with it,
so coming to appreciate that value and potentially enriching themselves in the
processhave noninstrumental value that is intrinsic since their value rests
on a capacity the existence of which (logically at least) does not depend on the
existence or nature of anything else, even there being anything else of noninstrumental value.
Even if we bracket the difficulties introduced by those who were valuers but
now lack the capacity to be so, and those who have the potential to become
valuers but have not yet realized that potential, we still have the question of
For the importance of keeping these notions apart, see Christine Korsgaard, Two
Distinctions in Goodness, in her Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1996), 249274.
22
See Jonathan Dancy, Ethics Without Principles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004),
p.170. There are different ways of understanding what it means to say that something is intrinsically valuable. Following G.E. Moore, it might be said that something has intrinsic value if and
only if it would have value were it alone in the universe. This is not how Ishall understand the
notion, however. For relevant discussion, see Dancy, Ethics Without Principles, Ch. 9.
23
See Raz, Value, Respect, and Attachment, 145158.
21

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why valuers are entitled to equal respect in virtue of their capacity to be valuers, given that they may differ in terms of the depth and extent of their capacity
to give appropriate weight to what is of value and to engage with it. If people
possess this capacity to different degrees, why does not this affect the degree
of recognition respect to which they are entitled? In accordance with one
common pattern of response to this type of question, it might be argued that
each person is entitled to equal recognition respect in virtue of possessing this
capacity above some minimum threshold, and possessing this capacity to different degrees above that threshold does not affect their entitlement to equal
recognition respect.24 But it is one thing to state that position, quite another to
justify it:why should such differences have no impact on peoples entitlement
to equal respect? There is a difficult challenge and indeed there is now a sizeable literature that addresses it;25 Ishall merely gesture toward that literature
rather than attempt to carve out a position within it.
Failing to treat others as equals involves a failure to give them the equal recognition respect to which they are morally entitled. But why isnt this failure
always intrinsically unjust? It seems clear that some failures to treat people as
equals are morally worse than others. We might think that it is only particularly egregious violations of our moral obligation to treat people as equals that
are intrinsically unjust (as opposed to merely morally wrong) and that these
violations are intrinsically unjust because they involve a more serious form of
disrespect. We might hold that when people are treated with contempt in virtue
of (say) their race or sex, this is a particularly serious violation of the obligation
to treat others as equals because (we might stipulate) it involves treating them
as if they have no intrinsic value and may even involve treating them as if they
had disvalue. On other occasions someone might fail to treat others as equals
because they are operating with a demeaning stereotype, without necessarily treating them with contempt in this sense; she may, for example, suppose
that members of an ethnic minority tend to be dirty or less honest and as a
result fail to give due acknowledgment of their equal intrinsic value in various
aspects of their thought and action, without necessarily supposing that they
have no such value. In the first type of case, we might think that the disrespect involved is so serious that it is intrinsically unjust, whereas in the second

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press, 1971), 443.
For relevant recent discussion, see Ian Carter, Respect and the Basis of Equality, Ethics 121,
no. 3 (2011):538571, esp. 538560. See also Geoffrey Cupit, The Basis of Equality, Philosophy
75, no. 1 (2000):105125; Jeremy Waldron, God, Locke and Equality (Cambridge:Cambridge
University Press, 2002), Chs 12; Louis Pojman, On Equal Human Worth: A Critique of
Contemporary Egalitarianism, in Equality: Selected Readings, ed. Louis Pojman and Robert
Westmoreland (NewYork:Oxford University Press, 1997), 282299.
24
25

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type of case the disrespect is less serious, so there is no intrinsic injustice even
though it is morally wrong.
It is not obvious, however, that it is the seriousness of the disrespect
involved in a failure to treat others as equals that alone determines whether
the concept of justice is appropriately deployed or not. Why should we suppose that displaying or expressing contempt toward a person because of her
race or sex (for example) is to show a kind of disrespect that is intrinsically
unjust, whereas the disrespect that is expressed in treating her merely as
having less value on grounds of race or sex is not intrinsically unjust even
though it violates a pro tanto moral obligation? If we want to understand why
the disrespect involved in failing to treat a person as an equal is intrinsically
unjust in some cases but not others, it seems to me that we would do better
to focus on whether or not by its nature it disadvantages her, for example,
by depriving her of some other important good. Independently of whether
a failure to treat others as equals involves contempt or some less serious
negative attitude, disrespectful behavior may by its nature deprive people
of an important good, for example, a job or a higher education place. It may
also have wider effects, perhaps in virtue of contributing to an accumulative
harm. In both kinds of case, the concept of justice is surely triggered. But is
it triggered even in casesperhaps merely hypotheticalwhen the behavior does not have these wider effects and no one suffers disadvantage as a
result of being treated with contempt or merely as inferior? My inclination
here is to say no. As Isuggested earlier, unless someone suffers from disadvantage as a result of this kind of behavior, either because she suffers psychological damage, or is deprived of, or receives less of, some good in a way
that makes a difference to how well her life goes, or the behavior is a constitutive part of a dominating relationship in which she is being subjected
to the arbitrary exercise of power, then it does not come within the purview of justice. Of course, the kinds of behavior Idescribed in section6.1
are likely to have wider effects, especially when they involve contempt; but
then the injustice is a consequence of these effects and is not intrinsic to the
behavior itself.

6.4 Civic Duty


If I am right, the failure to treat others as equals is not always intrinsically
unjust, but it is always morally problematic. But is it only the lack of equal recognition respect that makes the failure to treat others as equals morally objectionable independently of its wider effects and any objectionable meaning it
might possess? As Ihave argued elsewhere, we might think that a failure to

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treat others as equals can also involve failing to be a good citizen or indeed may
violate ones duty as a citizen to treat ones fellow citizens as equals.26
Citizenship, it might be thought, is a relationship between equals. Part of what it
is to be a citizen, at least when citizenship is understood as an ideal, is to be a member of a collective body that makes decisions that importantly affect ones conditions of existence, and in which one has equal standing because one has equal
opportunity to participate on equal terms not only in the political sphere but also
in civil society and public spaces, and because one is treated as an equal in these
contexts. Citizenship, so understood, might be regarded as noninstrumentally
valuable, as realizing what Icall the good of equal membership.27 According to
this account of citizenship, the rights and entitlements of citizenship are grounded
in the conditions required to secure the complex good of equal membership. The
duty to treat fellow citizens as ones social and political equalsthat is, to treat
them as equals in the political process, and in civil society and beyondmight
also be regarded as partially constitutive of the good of equal membership, rather
than simply a means to its promotion. Indeed, doing so helps to explain why it is
an obligation that is owed to fellow citizens in particular. For if the obligation to
treat ones fellow citizens as equals were grounded simply in the idea that this best
promotes the good of equal membership, then it is unclear why it should be owed
to ones fellow citizens rather than to humanity in general.
The obligation of citizenship to treat ones fellow citizens as equals might
be thought to govern public debate between citizens, particularly over matters of basic justice. Some might argue that it entails an obligation to restrict
oneself to public reasons in that debate, that is, to reasons it would be reasonable to expect to be shared by any citizen who held a reasonable moral view
or doctrine, that is, a moral view or doctrine compatible with the equal moral
standing of fellow citizens. Ihave argued against that idea elsewhere, 28 but it
is nevertheless plausible to suppose that our duty to treat fellow citizens as equals
places some constraints on what reasons we may permissibly offer in public
debate. Racist and sexist reasons, for example, surely violate that duty because of
the way in which they dishonor the good of equal membership.
The duty of citizenship to treat ones fellow citizens as equals might also be
thought to extend beyond the so-called public sphere and to govern interactions in civil society and beyond. But although appealing to the good of equal
membership and the constitutive duty to treat ones fellow citizens as equals
can help to explain what is morally objectionable about failing to treat others
26
See Andrew Mason, Living Together as Equals:The Demands of Citizenship (Oxford:Oxford
University Press, 2012).
27
See Mason, Living Together as Equals, for a more developed account of what is valuable
about the good of equal membership.
28
Ibid., Ch. 6.

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as equals in the various cases described in section 6.1 when they are conceived
as interactions between fellow citizens, by its nature it cannot explain why it
is morally problematic to behave in these ways toward visiting non-nationals
or toward those who are not yet ones fellow citizens, such as resident aliens
who have not yet naturalized. (Indeed grounding the obligation to treat ones
fellow citizens as equals in this way in the good of equal membership would
not by itself entail that the failure to treat others as equals was ever intrinsically wrong: its wrongness would be conditional on the relationship of
citizenship obtaining, even though when that relationship obtained its wrongness would not depend on its effects.) Might this be regarded as a flaw in a
citizenship-based account of the wrongness of failing to treat others as equals?
The best that could be said in response is that there is a duty to treat resident
aliens as if they were citizens if they intend to naturalize, since this will aid
their induction. But what of visitors and residents who have no intention of
remaining for long or becoming citizens? Here it seems we would need to fall
back, at least in part, on the idea that there is a failure of respect that does not
necessarily amount to an injustice, or indeed to a violation of a duty of citizenship, when they are not treated as equals.
It is tempting to think that the citizenship-based reason Iclaim to have
identified is redundant:if we have a strong moral reason to treat others as
equals because not doing so involves failing to give them the equal recognition respect to which they are entitled, then why do we need to appeal to
the way in which it represents a violation of citizenly duties? Shouldnt we
make use of Ockhams razor here? But Ithink that would be a mistake. The
wrongness of failing to treat a person as an equal may be overdetermined
there may be a number of reasons that speak in favor of its wrongnessbut
if we want a full and complete understanding of its wrongness, then we need
to appeal to these other reasons as well. Furthermore, we should not assume
that the force of each of these reasons can be understood in isolation, independently of their relationship to each other. The reasons involved may
be holistic in character, interacting with each other in various ways:29the
fact that a failure to treat another as an equal represents a failure to comply
with ones citizenly duties seems to intensify or accentuate the wrong that
is involved in failing to treat them with the recognition respect to which
they are entitled;30 so too, the fact that a failure to treat a person as an equal
contributes to an accumulative or other form of collective harm may also
intensify the wrong involved.

See Dancy, Ethics Without Principles, especially Ch. 5.


Ibid., 4142.

29

30

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6.5Conclusion
A failure to treat others as equals is not always intrinsically unjust, but it is
always morally problematic. My contention is that what makes such a failure
morally problematic is the fact that it involves withholding or denying the
equal recognition respect to which they are morally entitled, and that when it
occurs in the context of the relationship of citizenship, it also involves a failure
to fulfill a duty of citizenship. If Iam right, social equality, when it expresses
an ideal of a society the members of which are treated as equals within its basic
institutions and practices and by each other in their ordinary interactions, has
value that is partially independent of justice. The value of social equality is
partly a consequence of the importance of treating others with respect, but in
order to understand fully its distinctive value we need to place it in the context
of the relationship of citizenship and, in particular, the good of citizenship,
that is, the value of living together as equals as part of a collective that makes
decisions that significantly affect its members conditions of existence.

Acknowledgments
I would like to thank Chris Armstrong, Kim Brownlee, Carina Fourie, Tom
Parr, Mike Saward, Fabian Schuppert, and Ivo Wallimann-Helmer for their
helpful comments and suggestions.

Social EqualityOr Just Justice?


C h r ist i a n Sc h e m m e l

7.1Introduction
This essay examines the relationship between the value, or good, of relationships of social equality, and justice. It analyzes what is at stake in the disagreement between views that conceive of the two as distinct social and political
values, and views that subordinate concern for social equality to concern for
justice, understood along liberal egalitarian lines, and seek to account for it
entirely in terms of the latter. In doing so, it devotes particular attention to
inegalitarian norms of social status. Social status is a phenomenon opposition
to which is central to the value of social equality, whereas liberal justice-based
accounts seem to have a much harder time with it:it seems unclear whether
they are capable of accounting properly for its importance, and objectionableness. Accordingly, the essay examines which resources the latter views possess
to deal with the problem, and how this might bear on the questions of which
of the two approaches to social equality ought to be regarded as preferable on
the whole.
The essay is structured as follows:section 7.2 lays out in more detail the
central distinction between pluralist views that regard social equality and
social justice as two distinct values, and views that seek to account for egalitarian relationships within the terms of a liberal conception of social justice
views that can be called justice-based relational egalitarian views.1 It gives
an account of the most important general theoretical challenges and difficulties that both views face. To illustrate the distinction, the following sections
zoom in on the case of norms of social status as a central test case:section 7.3
lays out what Imean by social status and discusses why it is a phenomenon
Iuse the adjectives social and relational, following the prevalent usage, and self-labeling,
of adherents of both views, but nothing of substance hinges on this difference of terms.
1

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147

which seems to underscore the necessity of an account of social equality as


opposed to, and in addition to, a liberal conception of social justice. Section 7.4
analyzes how relational egalitarian conceptions of social justice might be able
to deal with social status norms, and points out several advantages that such a
status-sensitive conception of justice has over pluralist accounts, in terms of
the unity and stringency of demands that it issues, and its capacity to single out
particularly objectionable features of inegalitarian status norms while abstaining from putting forward conceptions, or ideals, of the good social life. Hence,
while the primary aim of the essay is to chart the conceptual territory of social
equality, it makes a preliminary case for the liberal justice-based approach to
social/relational equality, as worth being explored further.

7.2 Two Ways of Thinking about


Egalitarian Relations
7.2.1 Motivating Social and Relational Egalitarianism
In the last twenty years or so, there has been a resurgence of interest in questions of social equality, or equality of status,2 as an important component
of political morality distinct from distributive concerns. The latter had dominated the debate since the publication of Rawlss A Theory of Justice. 3 This is
exemplified in the equality of whatdebate, which focuses on the question
of which good(s) justice requires an equal distribution of, with the prime candidates being primary goods, capabilities, resources, and opportunity for welfare.4 The two views discussed here, pluralist social egalitarianism and liberal
justice-based relational egalitarianism, have developed in opposition to what
they perceive as the overly narrow focus of the equality of whatdebate on
questions of distribution, and agree with each other that egalitarian concern

Th is is how David Miller calls his conception of social equality, see his Complex Equality,
in Pluralism, Justice, and Equality, eds. David Miller and Michael Walzer, (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1995), 197225, and Equality and Justice, in Ideals of Equality, ed. Andrew
Mason, (Oxford:Blackwell, 1998), 2136.
3
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, rev. ed. (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1999). This is not
to claim that Rawlss view focuses exclusively on distributive equality, but only that the debate
that followed it did; see footnote 5.
4
For some of the most important contributions to this debate, see Amartya Sen, Equality
of What? The Tanner Lecture on Human Values 1979, available at http://www.tannerlectures.
utah.edu/lectures/documents/sen80.pdf; Ronald Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), chs. 1 and 2; Richard Arneson, Equality and Equal
Opportunity for Welfare, Philosophical Studies 56, no. 1 (1989): 7793; G.A. Cohen On the
Currency of Egalitarian Justice, Ethics 99, no. 4 (1989):906944.
2

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should have a broader focus:that the question of how a properly egalitarian


society should look like necessitates sustained inquiry into the kind of social
and political relations that characterise such a society. What they disagree on
is the question of whether concern for egalitarian relations makes it necessary
to conceive of social equality as a value which is distinct from justiceand
which might sometimes be in conflict with it. This is what pluralist social egalitarianism (henceforth:PSE) affirms, and what makes it pluralist in the sense
employed in this essay. Liberal justice-based relational egalitarianism, on the
other hand, as the name makes clear, retains an exclusive focus on questions
of social justice:it seeks to subsume considerations of social equality entirely
under social justice. With the help of this taxonomy, let us look a little closer at
both views and identify both their underlying motivation and main commitments, and the challenges they face, in more detail, starting with PSE.

7.2.2 Pluralist Social Egalitarianism


To qualify as a pluralist social egalitarian in the sense used in this essay, it is
enough to be committed to the view that (a)there is at least one important
social egalitarian rationale that social justice cannot account for, and which
hence calls for reliance on a value of social equality distinct from justice, 5 and
(b)that the requirements of social equality have to be balanced with those of
other valuesincluding justice, where they conflictat the level of principle.
This is a broad and minimal definition; PSE denotes a family of social egalitarian views, whose members can be more or less pluralist, according to the
degree of possible conflict that they identify between justice and those social
egalitarian rationales that lie outside it, and according to the degree to which
the requirements of social equality are thought to go beyond those of justice.
A paradigmatic example of PSE is David Millers account of social equality:
[t]here are two different kinds of valuable equality, one connected
with justice, and the other standing independently of it. Equality of
the first kind is distributive in nature. It specifies that benefits of a
certain kindrights, for instanceshould be distributed equally,
because justice requires this. The second kind of equality is not in
this sense distributive. It does not specify directly any distribution
of rights or resources. Instead it signifies a social ideal, the ideal of
R awls is hence not a pluralist in this sense, since he thought that a variety of different social
egalitarian rationales can all be suitably accommodated within his conception of social justice;
see John Rawls, Justice as Fairness:ARestatement (Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press,
2001), especially 130132.
5

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a society in which people regard and treat one another as equals, in


other words a society that is not marked by status divisions such that
one can place different people in hierarchically ranked categories, in
different classes for instance. We can call this second kind of equality
equality of status, or simply social equality.6
On this view, what motivates reliance on social equality as a value distinct from
justice is that the latter is conceived of as essentially distributive; the case for
social equality then gains further support if, additionally, justice is conceived
of as not relying exclusively on egalitarian distributive considerations, or as
relying on egalitarian considerations of only one sort, which leave room for,
or could even mandate, other significant inequalities. Thus, Miller argues that
distributive justice draws on three different rationalesin addition to equality, there is distribution according to need, and, more saliently for the contrast
with social equality, distribution according to desert (including, most notably,
economic performance).7 Both, and the latter in particular, then need to be
balanced with the requirements of social equality.
Similarly, Jonathan Wolff argues that, if distributive justice is conceived of
as expressing a particular kind ofluck egalitarianfairness, which requires
thoroughgoing equality of opportunity, that is, equality in unchosen circumstances, but at the same time holding people responsible for the distributive
consequences of their choicesand accordingly also inquiring into peoples
lives, talents, and capacities to see to which extent they are indeed responsible
for thesethen this kind of egalitarian concern needs to be counterbalanced
with a concern for respect. This concern requires, inter alia, that, despite considerations of luck egalitarian fairness, important features of peoples lives
such as what particular level of talent(s) they may be said to possessshould
not be inquired into, and be shielded from public revelation, in order to protect peoples self-respect. Both kinds of egalitarian considerations must hence
be reconciled within a broader egalitarian ethos. 8 Abroadly parallel point is
stressed even by one of the main champions of luck egalitarianism itself, G.A.
Cohen. In his late work, Cohen argues that luck egalitarian justice ought to
be tempered by a principle of community,9 which may rule out certain distributive inequalities that the former permits or even requiresthose due to

M iller Equality and Justice, 23, emphases in the original.


David Miller, Principles of Social Justice (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1999).
8
Jonathan Wolff, Fairness, Respect, and the Egalitarian Ethos, Philosophy & Public Affairs
27, no. 2 (1998):97122.
9
G.A. Cohen, Why Not Socialism? (Princeton, NJ:Princeton University Press, 2009), 34.
6
7

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personal choiceson the grounds that, if sufficiently large, they may damage
the quality of your relations to your fellow citizens.10
Other members of the PSE family put less stress on possible conflicts
between justice and social equality, and more stress on the idea that the latter
may give rise to requirements that go beyond those of justice, even though
there need not be conflict, and even though justice may not be exclusively
distributivefor example, requirements of equality in everyday interactions
which justice may not necessitate. This is the case for Andrew Masons account
of the good of citizenship, conceived of as the good of equal membership of a
social and political community.11 However, the important point for our purposesof bringing the contours of PSE as a broad family of positions clearly
into viewis that both community and citizenship denote concerns that
are central to social egalitarianism, but outside of justice.
Another example of a social egalitarian view that falls within the PSE camp
is Martin ONeills account of nonintrinsic egalitarianism. Inspired by works
of Scanlon12 and the later Rawls,13 ONeill identifies several social egalitarian
rationales and points out that distributive (in)equality is nonintrinsically
mostly instrumentallyrelated to these. According to this analysis, distributive inequality
[...] creates stigmatizing differences in status, whereby the badly-off
feel like, and are treated as, inferiors [...]; [...] creates objectionable
relations of power and domination; [...] weakens self-respect (especially of the worst-off); [...] creates servility and deferential behavior;
and [...] undermines healthy fraternal social relations.14
ONeill is not wedded to the idea that justice is exclusively or primarily
distributive, or cannot account satisfactorily for any of these concerns. His
view qualifies as PSE because he holds that nonintrinsic egalitarianism is

Ibid., 74.
Andrew Mason, Living Together as EqualsThe Demands of Citizenship (Oxford:Oxford
University Press, 2012), 2.See also his contribution to this volume. To be sure Mason also discusses possible conflicts, which become sharp, once more, if justice is conceived of as stressing
individual responsibility along luck egalitarian lines; ibid., ch. 3.
12
Thomas M.Scanlon, The Diversity of Objections to Inequality, in The Ideal of Equality,
2nd edition, eds. Matthew Clayton and Andrew Williams (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan,
2002), 4159. Iam not sure that Scanlon qualifies as a pluralist social egalitarian, but unfortunately lack the space to discuss his view in detail here.
13
Rawls, Justice as Fairness, 130132.
14
Martin ONeill, What Should Egalitarians Believe? Philosophy & Public Affairs 36, no. 2
(2008):119156, 126.
10
11

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151

not just [concerned] with rights-claims or questions of justice, and that


its focus is on the badness of inequality, rather than its connection to claims
of right or justice,15 while leaving space for the idea that concern for equality may be outweighed by other considerations, and thus adopting a form of
pluralism.16
One final clarification is necessary to have the contours of PSE clearly in
view. This clarification should be fairly obvious, but is nevertheless worth
being made explicit, since it will be of importance later on in the argument:social egalitarian concern must be regarded as ultimate. It must not be
reducible to concerns about aggregate welfare or even the welfare of the disadvantaged in particular.17 Social egalitarians do not merely aim at drawing
attention to a set of possible causes of low welfare that distributive theories
have happened to overlook. Depending on the facts about the connection
between inegalitarian social relations and individual welfare, distributive
views, including intrinsically nonegalitarian views such as utilitarianism,
are, in principle, able to take them into account as possible causes of low
welfare, and may then well issue social egalitarian policy recommendations.
For example, if inegalitarian relations lead to low self-respect among those
at the wrong end of these relations, and self-respect is conceived of as an
ingredient of welfare, then this renders the utilitarian capable of objecting
to them on such instrumental grounds. Seeking to identify such causal connections seems to be a promising strategy; the last decades have seen a surge
in social scientific inquiries confirming the negative effects of inequality
(even though they are far from being undisputed).18 However, social egalitarians object to inegalitarian relations in their own right, independently of
I bid., 124 (my emphasis).
I bid., 143f. However, ONeill briefly mentions a notion of all-things-considered social justice, 144, under which diverse social egalitarian considerations could perhaps all fit (as Rawls
thinks, see footnote 5), and which cannot be so outweighedbut does not discuss how its content is determined, and how exactly (and why) it differs from justice as used by him throughout
the article; see also p.133. It is thus perhaps fairest to say that ONeill does not take a final official
stand on the matter. Other claims he makes do, however, place him more clearly within the PSE
camp, such as his claim that social egalitarian relationships have impersonal value (p.146ff),
which is in conflict with a liberal justice-based view (see section 7.3).
17
See ONeill, What Should Egalitarians Believe? 125ff; Carina Fourie, What is Social
Equality? An Analysis of Status Equality as a Strongly Egalitarian Ideal, Res Publica 18, no. 2
(2012):107126, 121ff.
18
To name only one prominent example, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett seek to identify a whole barrage of negative effects of economic and social inequalityinter alia, on population health, including mental health, and on levels of crimeon whose objectionableness there
should be ecumenical agreement, independently of the question of whether one regards equality also as normatively fundamental, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level:Why
Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (London:Allen Lane, 2009).
15
16

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their negative effects, or at least hold that their views are capable of elucidating what is objectionable about social inequality, drawing especially on
the interconnections between different forms of itsuch as the ones mentioned in the quote by ONeill abovein a more nuanced and thorough
manner than can be done by insisting on a strong intrinsic-instrumental
distinction. In this sense, social equality is to be regarded as an ultimate
social ideal.
Different adherents of PSE may hence differ about the underlying motivation of their view, about the exact nature and number of social egalitarian
rationales, about the extent to which they deem reliance on a value of social
equality as distinct from justice necessary, and about the extent to which it
may come into conflict with the latteras long as some such reliance is deemed
necessary.19 Differences with justice-based views may accordingly be more or
less sharp, depending on the views in question, and could sometimes even turn
out to be largely terminological. The particular kind of justice-based relational
egalitarian approach that this essay focuses on, does, however, contrast clearly
with PSE, and does so because of its different structurebecause it relies on
a distinctively liberal understanding of justice, which constrains what kind of
social egalitarian considerations can be made to count within it (and how), while
at the same time insisting that social justice enjoys priority over other values.

7.2.3 Liberal Justice-Based Relational Equality


According to this approach, concern aboutyet to be specifiedegalitarian
relations ought to be regarded as the primary concern of social justice. It holds
that social justice can account satisfactorily for such relations, and regards reliance on a distinct ideal of social equality as not necessary (and as problematic;
see section 7.4). This view hence does not seek to supplement theories of distributive justice, while accepting their focus on distribution, as at least some
variants of PSE do:according to this kind of view, the primary focus of the
equality of whatdebate on distributions is misguided, and theorizing of justice ought to be refocused, at its most fundamental level, on the structuring of
A s seen, Miller, Wolff, and Cohen tend to stress the element of possible conflict, while
Mason and ONeill tend to stress that social egalitarianism goes beyond justice. For an analysis
of egalitarian rationales that is similar to ONeills, but professes not to be invested in the distinction see Daniel M.Hausman and Matt Sensat Waldren, Egalitarianism Reconsidered, Journal
of Moral Philosophy 8, no. 4 (2011):567586, at 575ff., 578. For another careful analysis of social
equality that leaves open the possibility that it ought to be regarded as a matter of justice, see
Fourie, What is Social Equality? 108 n.3. Insofar as Fourie argues, however, that inegalitarian relations harm those at the top of the hierarchy, as well, and have impersonal value (ibid.,
at 119ff), her view also falls within the PSE camp as discussed here; see section 7.4.
19

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social and political relations.20 The fundamental question of justice animating


this view is the question of which principles ought to govern individuals relations to each other as free and equal within society understood as a cooperative enterprise,21 in John Rawlss classic formulation. 22 Justice-based relational
egalitarians aim at staying within the bounds of liberal egalitarianism, broadly
conceived:they regard the task of social justice as that of identifying the societal constraints within which equal opportunity for all individuals to pursue
and revise their own conception of the good can be secured, and hence regard
social justice as relational equality as exclusively concerned with the institutional set-up of societyin Rawlsian terms, the basic structureand how
it prefigures particular relationships between individuals, without prescribing
further-reaching ideals of social egalitarian relations to them.23
It is, of course, a theoretical possibility that one can account satisfactorily
for such an overall, basic structure-mediated relationship of freedom and
equality precisely by spelling out how much of which goods every individual
ought to have; in this case, bringing this relationship into view would not do
much more than tie a little ribbon on top of distributive egalitarian conceptions of justice. However, it is more natural to think that the basic question
urges us to inquire in more detail into the substantive nature of the particular
kinds of social and political relations that constitute the said overall relation
See Elizabeth Anderson, What is the Point of Equality? Ethics 109, no. 2 (1999), 287
337:the article argues that luck egalitarians have misconceived the point of equality as required
by justice, ibid., 295, 304; see also her The Fundamental Disagreement between Luck Egalitarians
and Relational Egalitarians Canadian Journal of Philosophy Supplementary Volume 36 (2010):123.
For a broader account of relational egalitarianism as relying on both justice and the goodness of
equality, see her Equality, in The Oxford Handbook of Political Philosophy, ed. David Estlund
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 4057. Samuel Schefflers critique of luck egalitarianism is, in part, similarly justice-based, and argues that a relational egalitarian conception of justice
should be regarded as underpinning the distributive principles of Rawlsian justice as fairness; see
his What is Egalitarianism? Philosophy & Public Affairs 31, no. 1 (2003):539, at25, and Choice,
Circumstance, and the Value of Equality, Politics, Philosophy & Economics 4, no. 1 (2005):528,
at 18f. However, Scheffler is open to the alternative possibility of basing distributive justice on a
thicker positive ideal of social equality, see ibid., 19, and arguably tends toward this line of thought
also in his contribution to this volume. For my own account of how relational egalitarianism
should be based on a relational concept of justice, see my Distributive and Relational Equality,
Politics, Philosophy & Economics 11, no. 2 (2012):123148, and Luck Egalitarianism as Democratic
Reciprocity? AResponse to Tan, The Journal of Philosophy 109, no. 7 (2012):433448.
21
Ifocus here on relationships within one society, leaving questions of global justice aside for
the moment.
22
John Rawls, Political Liberalism (NewYork:Columbia University Press, 1996).
23
See Anderson What is the Point of Equality? Scheffler, What is Egalitarianism? and
Choice, Circumstance, and the Value of Equality (but see the qualification in n. 20 above).
I develop the details of a specifically liberal conception of relational equality in Justice and
Egalitarian Relations (unpublished manuscript).
20

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before tackling questions of distribution, as a basis for the latter. Which more
particular relations do justice-based relational egalitarians identify as the primary requirements of social justice? In positive terms, they demand democratic equality, according to which all individuals have to be rendered capable
of participating on equal terms in societys most important activities, such as
relations of production, and collective decision-making. 24 In negative terms,
they seek to identify a distinctive set of inegalitarian relationships as primary
injustices, seizing especially on domination as the core unjust relation to
be ruled out, 25 and drawing inspiration from, inter alia, Iris Marion Youngs
analysis of the five faces of oppression:exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and subjection.26 Domination, on this view,
consists of being exposed to the arbitrary power of others, that is, roughly,
to others capacity to arbitrarily interfere with ones significant choices and
actions.27 There is hence also an important overlap with neorepublican work
inquiring into the connection between non-domination and justice. 28 On this
view, distributive principles are then evaluated according to how well they
express, and contribute to bringing about, the relations required by justice.

7.2.4Challenges
This sketch of the contours of the two different approaches to egalitarian social
and political relations enables us to see which main challenges both face.
PSE faces one such main challenge. It has to be able to give an account of
just how objectionable the various social inequalities it focuses on are:given
its value pluralism, an account of how social equality as just one value behaves
in relation to other values is needed.29 Following the above discussion, this
includes the question of how it is to be balanced with justice. Even if fixing
A nderson, What is the Point of Equality? 313, 316.
A nderson, ibid., 316. Iargue for a right of all individuals to be equally and adequately protected by basic social and political institutions against domination as the core requirement of
social justice in Justice and Egalitarian Relations.
26
Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1990), 4863.
27
Philipp Pettit, RepublicanismA Theory of Freedom and Government (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1999), 52.
28
Philipp Pettit, On the Peoples TermsA Republican Theory and Model of Democracy
(Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2012), c hapter2; Frank Lovett, A General Theory of
Justice and Domination (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2010). See also the contributions to
this volume by Fabian Schuppert, and by Marie Garrau and Ccile Laborde. For Pettit democratic institutions are, however, not requirements of justice, but of a freestanding conception of
legitimacy, ibid.
29
See Hausman/Waldren, Egalitarianism Reconsidered, 571.
24
25

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the exact weight of social equality in comparison to other values in general


terms, before tackling particular cases and contexts, should be too much to
ask, at least an account of how to go about fixing that weight in such particular
circumstances is called for. This is a difficult challenge:recall that adherents of
PSE have to justify concern for social equality, and its status vis--vis other values, not only without appealing to justice, where the two come apart, but also
without offering considerations that are ultimately reducible to its effects on
individual welfare. Accordingly, a nonjustice-based and nonwelfarist rationale for why social equality should matter much is needed, if the issue of its
weight is not to be left undetermined, with the consequent possibility that it
actually matters little (which social egalitarians presumably want to rule out).
As will be discussed in section 7.4, possible answers to this challenge depend
on how strong a positive ideal of social equality as a conception of the good
social life adherents of PSE put forward.
The challenges that liberal justice-based relational egalitarianism faces are
different, but no less difficult. As seen, this view seeks to do without balancing different values at the fundamental level, by drawing on an understanding
of justice as the part of political morality issuing its most stringent demands;
demands that, at least in normal cases, enjoy priority over other concerns. This
understanding is arguably in line with the role of appeals to justice in everyday discourse, or at least more in line with it than a pluralist understanding.
However, since it would make no sense to seek to couch a set of requirements
in terms of justice merely because it would be nice to be able to draw on such
formal features of the latter, this strategy brings with it two argumentative
burdens that PSE does not face with the same degree of urgency. On, the one
hand, relational egalitarians have to argue that arguments for other, purportedly competing rationales for justice, such as luck egalitarian fairness, and
desert, are at bottom flawed; they cannot sidestep these controversies in the
argument for social equality and relegate the issue of conflict to a further level
(of balancing), as can PSE. 30 On the other, the concerns it identifies must be
clearly connectible to concerns of justice, or, negatively phrased, the inegalitarian relations it seeks to rule out must be plausibly classifiable as injustices.
This is what arguments for the particular objectionableness of relations such
as domination and marginalization seek to do. Other social inequalities, such
For relational egalitarian arguments against luck egalitarianism, see footnote 20.
Regarding desert, relational egalitarians share, and elaborate on, Rawlss argument against the
ascertainability of preinstitutional standards of comparative desert which could be used to
determine differential socioeconomic shares, A Theory of Justice, 48, Samuel Scheffler, Justice
and Desert in Liberal Theory, California Law Review 887, no. 3 (2000): 965990, Elizabeth
Anderson, How Should Egalitarians Cope with Market Risks? Theoretical Inquiries in Law 9,
no. 1 (2008):239270.
30

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as inequalities in self-respect traceable to differential social esteem, can be


brought within the permit of this view only if causal or constitutive connections between them and such core injustices can be established.
Justice-based relational egalitarianism could then be in danger of not being
able to adequately respond to the full gamut of plausible social egalitarian
concerns; while PSE, as seen, faces the challenge of identifying grounds for
ranking different objections to social inequality, and for ascertaining their
strength vis--vis possibly competing considerations. To see to which extent
this diagnosis is accurate, it should be tested by focusing on a salient case of
social inequality, that of differential social status. The next two sections hence
undertake a closer analysis of how both views approach this issue, and of what
is to be said for and against their respective approaches.

7.3 Inequality of Social Status


The first step in this analysis is to spell out with precision what precisely is
meant by social status. This is necessary not only because status can be used
as an abstract termas is the case for example in all humans have equal
moral statusbut also because status inequality can denominate virtually
any inequality in social position between different individuals. We are here
interested in norms of social status which decree that particular achievements,
character traits, talents, abilities, and pursuitsin modern societies, especially
professional pursuitsare to be rewarded with particular social esteem. They
thus contain social evaluations about what it is worthwhile to be, or pursue. Such
esteem can be expressed in various ways to those that possess, or do not possess,
features such as the ones just listedsuch as verbal recognition (for example,
through using particular titles), gestures, and other physical behavior signifying
particular recognition, or deference, such as letting an individual deemed of high
status sit at the head of the table at dinner, letting them enter or leave rooms first,
and so on. It is not necessary that those who do not possess the features in question meet with an intentional negative reaction on the part of those applying the
norm, such as being treated with scorn, or receiving arrogant or contemptuous
smiles. Being ignored, for example, among those who are assigned good seats
at a social dinner, is enough:it suffices for those not taken into consideration to
reasonably infer from such a social situation how others conceive of their status.
The brief account of status norms just given is intended to be generally applicable, and to cover cases such as status attached to a particular ethnic identity,
or sex, as well. However, it seems clear that status differentiations attaching
to sheer membership in a certain ethnic group, or to belonging to a certain
sex, and nothing else, will rest on rationally indefensible grounds of esteem,

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and thus express mere prejudice. The more interesting cases for our purposes
hence lie elsewhere, in the domain of status norms that attach to important
socioeconomic markers, such as level of education, professional activity, and
command of economic resources. 31 Status norms of this kind roughly correspond to distinctions of social class, on accounts which regard class as necessarily linked to the possession, and continuous enactment, of a set of norms
expressing esteem for some ways of life over others. 32
Now, what exactly is objectionable about status norms? Consider the following scenario, taken from de Tocquevilles Democracy in America:
If two Englishmen chance to meet at the Antipodes, where they are
surrounded by strangers whose language and manners are almost
unknown to them, they will first stare at each other with much curiosity and a kind of secret uneasiness; they will then turn away, or,
if one accosts the other, they will take care only to converse with a
constrained and absent air upon very unimportant subjects. Yet there
is no enmity between these men; they have never seen each other
before, and each believes the other to be a respectable person. Why
then should they stand so cautiously apart? 33
The answeris:
[E]verybody lives in constant dread lest advantage should be taken of
his familiarity. Unable to judge at once the social position of those he
meets, an Englishman prudently avoids all contact with them. Men
are afraid lest some slight service rendered should draw them into an
unsuitable acquaintance; they dread civilities, and they avoid the obtrusive gratitude of a stranger quite as much as his hatred.34
It is easy to see how pluralist social egalitarians evaluate such a scenario
(whose continuing relevance many who are familiar with contemporary
31
One should not object that according esteem based on riches must be equally expressive of
mere prejudice, of irrational adoration of wealth for its own sake:economic resources give their
owners abilities and capacities to do and become things that others lack, and it is not self-evidently
irrational to accord esteem to such an expanded range of abilities.
32
One well-known such account, to which Iam largely sympathetic, is the account of habitus
developed in Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction:ASocial Critique of the Judgement of Taste, transl. by
Richard Nice (Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press, 1984), but for the present purposes it
is not necessary to commit to any such particular view.
33
De Tocqueville, Alexis de, Democracy in America (NewYork:Random House, Everymans
Library, 1994 [1835/1840]) Volume 2, Book III, ch. 2.
34
Ibid.

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English society might perhaps affirm). Individuals unwillingness to engage


with each other impairs the quality of their social relationships, up to the
point of perhaps having none at all that would be worth the name, and this
is not a matter of mere preferencesuch as a preference for unsociability
but based on a propensity to make judgments of differential social status,
and to attach weight to these. Indeed, this is one of the very phenomena
opposition to which is at the heart of social egalitarianism as a distinct
ideal, also because it is plausible to suppose that such a propensity for status judgmentsand especially a risk of being at the receiving end of judgments of lower social positioncan endanger peoples sense of themselves
as equals in society. For this reason, social egalitarians demand a society
of misters, 35 in which judgments of differential social position take second
seat to the affirmation of peoples fundamentally equal social status in societal relations.
It is, against that, not immediately clear how liberal justice-based conceptions of relational equality can account for the problem described:would we
want to say that the de Tocquevilles two Englishmen are treating each other
unjustly? And, if so, what would that injustice consist in?
Perhaps, in a variant of the scenario, some might want to say that the one
who judges the other to be of lower social position is thereby committing an
injustice. But note that, in the scenario, no contemptuous behavior or anything similar is implied; it is a scenario of perfect politeness. Both individuals
involved believe the other to be a respectable person. Furthermore, in the
discussion of status above, it has been assumed that status differentiations are
not officially mandated, by law; neither are they in de Tocquevilles scenario.
If this were the case, it would be clear that they are within the purview of liberal justice. And even if we are prepared to say that a personal obsession with
rank independently of the basis of rank judgments is an unjust attitudea
mere penchant for social discriminationwhat if one regards himself to be
of higher rank than the other because he correctly believes that he is the more
educated person, is capable of accomplishing more complex and difficult tasks,
and of filling professional roles involving greater responsibility, and has more
refined tastes and pursuitsso that he prefers to associate with those like him,
and to abstain from contact with those unlike him, on the basis of the esteem
that he himself accords to such abilities and capacities? While such a person is
certainly not a committed social egalitarian, it seems dogmatic and counterintuitive to call his behavior unjuston the liberal view, injustice, if there is any,
must reside elsewhere, it seems.
35
M iller, Justice and Equality, 31, taken from Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice (NewYork:
Basic Books, 1983), 276. This should, of course, rather be a society of misters and mses.

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7.4 Justice and Social Status Norms


It is therefore necessary to inquire in greater detail into the resources of liberal justice-based views of relational equality to deal with the phenomenon
of inegalitarian status norms, to find out whether they are able to account for
the phenomenon in a way that could satisfy pluralist social egalitarians; or
whether they could even be able to account for them in a manner that is, overall, superior to the PSE account.
In fact, liberal justice-based relational egalitarians can object to inegalitarian norms of social status on three different levels. First, since the primary
concern of liberal relational egalitarians is to rule out dominatory relationships, that is, relationships exposing some to the capacity of others to exercise
arbitrary influence over them, one of the core requirements of social justice
on this view is a demanding conception of equality of political opportunity
within democratic institutions. Given the public nature of democratic institutions, such political equality is also a particularly good vehicle for expressing peoples overall social status as equals. Accordingly, relational egalitarians
can object to social status norms where they, through the differential esteem
expressed by them, impinge on such political equalityfor example, through
giving greater authority and hearing within political processes to those of generally higher social status, including, crucially, enhanced opportunities for
contact and exchange with political decision-makers, independently of the
question of whether they indeed have anything of greater value to contribute
to these processes.
This first level arguably latches on to a set of important negative consequences of status norms; however, it will likely leave those worrying about
status unsatisfied, for two reasons. The first is that considerations of political
equality are a rather indirect and remote basis for objections to inegalitarian
norms of social status; social egalitarians will rightly point out that, intuitively,
they simply do not capture fully what is objectionable about status inequality.
The second is that demanding political equality is not sufficient to address the
primary concern of opponents of domination itself:even if all indeed had equal
political opportunity, the political and economic division of labor in modern,
complex societies demands a host of positions of power and influence to enable
and stabilize ongoing social cooperation on all societal levels, such as the positions of judges, top-level bureaucrats, managers, and the like; these are not, and
cannot be, undone and remade each time within democratic processes of the
sort to which the requirement of political equality applies (some can certainly
be undone and remade each time, but not all of them all of the time).
This, then, leads on to the second level. Relational egalitarians have to
worry about the status attaching to such positions, and can do so on the basis

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of a theory of the general connection between power and status:in successful


social cooperation, power must, most of the time, not be exercised in the form
of naked coercion, but in the form of commands and directives on the part of
holders of offices and occupants of privileged social positions whose legitimacy
is generally recognized by those subject to their power. Naked coercion mostly
only comes in when something goes wrong. This kind of legitimacy naturally
confers higher social status on those occupying the positions in question:such
status derives from the legitimacy of the office or position as one believed to
be socially important, plus the judgment that those holding it are competent to do so (if things go well). If so, this status will also give them opportunity to abuse their position, at least sometimes. Relational egalitarians must
hence, when pondering which structure of positions and offices is adequately
non-dominatory, attach importance to their status dimension in the assessment of the latter, and in the design of social mechanisms for controlling office
holders. Cultivating a general disposition among democratic citizens to keep
any status accorded strictly in line with a narrow account of the function of the
position conferring it is one very important such mechanism. Furthermore, as
seen, attaching this importance is not merely due to an evaluation of the causal
effects of a position on the status of its occupant in particular cases, but based
on a general view of their constitutive connectiona plausible view, Isubmit.
Still, this is not enough. Status norms do not only latch on to positions of
influence, and power, but also, of course, to levels of material possession especially in modern market societies, which are characterized by the absence of
formally mandated distinctions of estate, or caste (recall the de Tocqueville
quote above). Liberal relational egalitarian conceptions of the sort introduced
in subsection 7.2.3 can pursue a two-pronged approach in response:36first,
concern about pervasive status norms delivers an additional rationale, on top
of the core liberal requirement of respect for individual autonomy, for pluralizing spheres of opportunity for achievement, especially through an expansive set of basic liberties allowing individuals to associate with like-minded
others in the pursuit of a variety of conceptions of the good. These may draw
on material possessions to differing extents, and may, accordingly, be accompanied by different sets of status norms which make overall social comparisons, and hence the identification of an overall societal status ranking, more
difficult. 37 Second, however, the pluralizing strategy will arguably not suffice
to rule out the emergence and maintenance of a set of society-wide social
See my Why Relational Egalitarians Should Care About Distributions, Social Theory and
Practice 37, no. 3 (2011):365390, at 380389.
37
See Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 470, on noncomparing groups, and Scanlon, The Diversity
of Objections to Inequality, 55f.
36

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161

status norms decreeing certain levels of material resources, and certain requirements on appearance in public as the appropriate standards individuals have
to meet to count as generally respectable members of society. This will be so
especially where a majority of individuals is capable of fulfilling such norms,
as it is in circumstances where societies are divided into a larger middle class
and a smaller underclass. Those who cannot meet the standards set by these
norms will accordingly be, to that extent, marginalized, and will have their
effective opportunities to participate in important societal activities diminishednot least because their failure to fulfill these norms makes it very
difficult not to feel shame and resentment vis--vis those better placed, and
to avoid a general sense of discouragement. This, then, is a further, and distinctively relational egalitarian, reason to equalize material resources, and
access to education, on top of other inequality-reducing rationales (such as
effective political equality):more equal distributions both make it less likely
that inegalitarian norms of status emerge, and help to make sure that everybody can fulfill the demands of those that remain in place. In this way, the
focus of liberal justice-based views on domination can hence be extended
to cover also the problem of status-induced marginalization. Furthermore,
relational egalitarians can, and should, pay attention to the question of how
arrangements of political economy encourage, or inhibit, the formation of
society-wide inegalitarian status norms when considering the question of
which such arrangements would implement their conception of social justice
best, such as universal welfare state policies and institutions, unconditional
basic income policies, or policies according everybody a basic stock of capital
(such as a stakeholder grant). For example, the latter may stabilize, or even
intensify, social esteem linked to the possession of capital, while the former
two will likely not. 38
Such more indirect distributive and institutional strategies to counter social
status norms are, from the point of view of liberal social justice, preferable to
attempts to directly tackle individual dispositions to form, and follow, them.
While existing inegalitarian norms should certainly be challenged and put
into question (for example, in school), it seems questionable that social and
political institutions could fully eradicate such dispositions without engaging
in attempts at changing peoples mindsets that unacceptably interfere with
their private lives and conceptions of the good. Recall that status norms do not
need to aim at social discrimination, but can merely be the reflections of what
most people regard as acceptable abilities and pursuits.

It is important to note that such policies can interact with status dispositions differently
even if they should generate similar distributive outcomes.
38

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To this extent, and in such circumstances, justice-based liberal relational


egalitarians can hence take society-wide norms of social status into account,
based on a claim of the worse off not to be subject to them, or, where the norms
cannot be made to vanish, to be at least put into a position of being able to
fulfill their demands. As has become clear, this claim of justice is not directly
targeted at those individuals following inegalitarian norms of social status
in particular social situations (recall de Tocquevilles example above), but at
basic social and political institutions favoring, or failing to counteract, such
norms at the societal level. Since those who enjoy superior status and power
have comparatively more influence on the workings of institutions, they have,
to that extent, more demanding obligations to ensure that institutions be just,
and combat such norms in the ways just mentioned.
This account of the three levels of objections to social status norms just
given is meant to show that liberal relational egalitarian conceptions of social
justice have much more to say about these than one might initially think, and
that this kind of view is hence not in need of being supplemented with concern
about social equality as a distinct value.
Nevertheless, it seems that supporters of PSE could accept everything that
has been said, and insist that the liberal justice-based strategy is no more than
appeasement that it does not go to the heart of the matter. This is because,
on PSE, those engaged in inegalitarian relations miss out on the particular
good of social equality. This good is not merely the good of justice, but refers
to a positive social ideal of a society of equals. This positive ideal is couched
in different term by different adherents of PSE:Mason defines it, as seen, as
the good of equal membership of a social and political community; Cohen
spells out the good of community as general civic friendship.39 For our present purposes it is not necessary to examine the differences between such
accounts; it is enough that the good referred to is valued intrinsically, not
only instrumentallye.g., because it facilitates the achievement of justice.
Section 7.2 had contended that adherents of PSE generally conceive of social
equality along these lines, insofar as they regard it as a distinct valueeven
though they may well disagree about its exact content. That they do is also evidenced by the fact that they stress two ways in which paying particular attention
to those who find themselves at the wrong end of inegalitarian relationships
does not exhaust their concern. First, they argue that even the privileged may
lose out on important relational goods precisely because status norms lock
them into a position of superiority: for example, they may experience the
stress connected to having to behave in ways that are recognized as superior

39

Why Not Socialism, 52.

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163

by those around them,40 and lose the opportunity for easy-going exchange
with those below (recall de Tocquevilles scenario). Second, they argue that
egalitarian relations also have impersonal value that is not reducible to their
impact on the welfare of those engaged in them:41 they exemplify a vision
of how [human agents] might best live together.42 Individuals should hence
strive for themto some extent (see what follows below)even if it is not
personally good for them in any way.
At the same time, however, we have seen that pluralist social egalitarians, qua pluralists, leave open, on the level of principle, how much their ideal
matters in relation to other, competing values, and considerations (whereas
justice-based relational egalitarians insist on the priority of justice). This gave
rise to the challenge for PSE raised in subsection 7.2.4, to give indications how
its weight vis--vis such other values is to be determined, and to ensure that
social equality matters much. Putting these two features of the view together,
a natural way to interpret PSE is that it answers this challenge by emphasizing
the attractiveness of such a positive ideal, in order to account for a suitably
elevated status in the balance of competing values. This, then, is a different
strategy to account for the weight of social equality than that pursued by the
justice-based account.
However, this combination of features of PSE precisely troubles liberal
relational egalitarians, since it involves making perfectionist claims about the
social good (conceived of as both an ingredient of each individuals good and
an impersonal good instantiated in the community as a whole). Liberal egalitarians seek to abstain from such claims, as they stress respect for individual
autonomy, and accordingly seek to secure for individuals equal opportunity to
pursue the widest possible array of different conceptions of the good:inegalitarian dispositions are, on that view, problematic for justice only if they lead
to domination and marginalization in the ways just explained. If they do not,
people remain free to pursue them in their personal lives (for example, in their
personal conceptions of friendship, or even of marriageif the institutional
background is cleared from any structural gender disadvantages).
This worry about illiberality is not based on the belief that social arrangements favoring community and general friendship would, in reality, require
intolerable amounts of coercion of individuals by the state in order to be
maintained. It strikes deeper and, as seen, latches on to the reasons that PSE
offers for demanding such arrangements. While we might, for example, be
sympathetic to the idea that even the privileged lose out on something due
Fourie, What Is Social Equality? 119ff.
I bid., 123ff; ONeill, What Should Egalitarians Believe? 146f.
42
Ibid., 147.
40
41

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to social inequality, basing part of ones case for arrangements instantiating social equality on the claim that the privileged ought to accept a loss
of status (and/or power) also for their own good is nevertheless a problematic further step:the privileged will have to be presented with an argument
that not only shows that social equality has some unique goods in store also
for themwhich might be possiblebut also that they should accord more
importance to these for their lives than to the goods of power and status
that they now possess.43 This kind of argument becomes more promising,
from the liberal point of view, if sufficient evidence can be found that social
egalitarian arrangements perform clearly better in terms of goods that all
reasonable people would presumably want present to a great extent in their
lives (such as clearly enhanced health, or a far lower risk of falling victim
to crime). However, insofar as it then relies on the instrumental benefits of
social equality, it does not rely on PSE as a distinct and ultimate ideal (see
the end of subsection 7.2.2).
The antiperfectionist worry becomes clearer still when considering the supposed impersonal value of social equality. Requiring people to support and
maintain social forms and arrangements that are not even aimed at sustaining
and enhancing their personal good (to the extent that justice deems permissible, in conjunction with the good of everybody else), but require them to perhaps sacrifice part of it for some impersonal value is a case of oppression, from
a neutralist liberal point of view.
Adherents of PSE might answer that emphasizing these features of their
view mischaracterizes what they would really say about the weight of social
equality. More naturally, they will hold that this weight increases with increasing social inequality, because of the plight of the dominated and marginalized under such inegalitarian relations. On this, however, PSE and the justice
account do not differ. The above remarks are precisely meant to illustrate
the difference in justificatory strategy. The justice account seeks to attain an
equivalent resultpriority of its demands, which center on the viewpoint of
those who would be less privileged under inegalitarian arrangements (I leave
quibbles about the difference between great weight in the balance and priority aside here) based on thinner moral premises, by spelling out egalitarian
requirements as constraints of justice on the pursuit of the good:a society of
free and equals must not treat any of its members in a way that exposes them
to a heightened risk of domination and status-induced marginalization, as
Furthermore, stressing the importance of positive egalitarian relations as components of
the good social life also carries a danger of interfering unduly with the lives of those who might
not be keen on social inequality, but also not on much friendly interchange, and community with,
otherscall this the liberal neutralist argument on behalf of the unsociable type.
43

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165

explained above. It hence seeks to get to this result without relying on claims
about the particular goodness of positive egalitarian relations.44
To conclude this discussion, one final point ought to be mentioned: it
seems that supporters of PSE could accept that the weight of social equality
in cases not focusing on the worse off is indeed rather small, but stress that the
view is still capable of accounting for its value, while the liberal justice-based
view is not. However, the point of the liberal view is not to deny that social
equality on top of the demands of justice can be seen as both a personal and
impersonal good. Its point is that it is not the kind of good we should rely on
in justifying basic institutional arrangements. For example, value may also be
attached to personal and collective greatness and achievements. These are perhaps best fostered in conditions of social inequality.45 By focusing on the constraints of justice, the liberal seeks to avoid having to balance such different
considerations. Once these are fixed, the liberal will favor leaving it to people
themselves, through democratic self-determination, to decide which social
egalitarian projects, if any, they want to pursue on top of justice, for personal
or impersonal reasons, in fair competition with those with a less egalitarian
outlook.

7.5Conclusion
This essay has outlined the contours of two different approaches to egalitarian relations, pluralist social egalitarianism and liberal justice-based relational
egalitarianism, and investigated how both views approach the issue of social
status norms. It has sought to show that the liberal justice-based view is capable of properly accounting for the objectionableness of inegalitarian norms of
social status, as the core requirement of equal protection against domination
covers the connection between power and status, and should be interpreted
so as to cover society-wide status norms latching on to material possession, as
44
Afurther objection on the part of PSE could be to insist that the principle of social equality is, in fact, tempered from the outset by a personal prerogative, which makes sure that it does
not encroach unduly on individuals opportunity to develop and pursue their own conception of
the good. Liberal egalitarians will welcome this; but they will want to know more about how the
precise extent of such a prerogative is to be determined. Seeking to justify relational egalitarian
constraints within a neutralist framework is precisely meant to deliver a principled method for
delineating the space for permissible personal projects (including collective projects):this is the
task of justice, on a liberal approach.
45
De Tocqueville famously held that, under conditions of social equality, the nation, taken
as a whole, will be less brilliant, less glorious, and perhaps less strong. Democracy in America, Vol.
1, Authors Introduction.

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well. It has also suggested that this approach has important advantages over
pluralist social egalitarianism in terms of the general justificatory strategy
underlying the view, which seeks to do without balancing social equality with
different considerations and abstains from appeals to it as an ideal, or vision,
of the good social life.
However, this is only a preliminary result. For once, it needs to be shown in
greater detail that liberal neutralist relational egalitarianism can indeed yield
institutional and policy recommendations that are both adequately precise
and capable of satisfying egalitarians pretheoretical judgments about which
such measures are required to a sufficient degree.46 Furthermore, justice-based
relational egalitarians continue to have to engage directlymore directly
than pluralist egalitarianswith those who conceive of social justice in less
egalitarian terms. Finally, it cannot be ruled out in advance that social egalitarians can come up with arguments which demonstrate the intrinsic goodness
of social equality clearly enough to defeat liberal antiperfectionist worries.
Ihope, then, that this essay has at least shown that the liberal justice-based
approach to relational equality is worth pursuing further.

Acknowledgments
I am grateful to the editors of this volume for an extensive set of comments on
the first draft of this essay, which greatly contributed to its improvement.

In Justice and Egalitarian Relations, Iseek to undertake this task with respect to four different institutional and policy fields:institutions of democratic decision-making, the distributive
implications of relational egalitarianism, welfare state arrangements and their desirable reform,
and public health.
46

The Principles and the Presumption


of Equality
St e fa n Gose pat h

A methodically well-grounded procedure is required if one wishes to proceed from basic moral premises to a theory of rights and justice. Iwish to
advocate the presumption of equality as a possible candidate for such a procedure. The presumption of equality is a prima facie principle of equal distribution for all goods that many scholars of political theory as well as public
decision-makers/public opinion deem politically suitable for the process of
public distribution. Applied to this domain, the presumption of equality
requires that everyone, regardless of individual differences, should have an
equal share in the distribution unless certain types of relevant differences
justify, on universally acceptable grounds, unequal distribution. A strict
principle of equal distribution is not required, but it is morally necessary to
justify impartially any unequal distribution. Although this procedural principle is upheld by many scholars, albeit in different terms, one only rarely
finds an explicit justification for it.
The aim of this paper is to offer such a justification in four steps. In section
8.1, the relation between the abstract concepts of justice and three well-known
principles of equalitynamely, (a)formal equality, (b)proportional equality,
and (c)moral equalityand the relation between moral equality and social
equality will be elaborated on. Section 8.2 introduces the presumption of
equality as a necessary feature of any concrete conception of just treatment
and distribution. Section 8.3 discusses and rejects different attempts to justify
the presumption of equality. In section 8.4, finally, a substantive justification
of the presumption of equality will be given that links the presumption back to
the basic notions of justice and morals.

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8.1 Principles of Equality


Equality in its prescriptive usage has, of course, a close connection with
morality and justice in general and distributive justice in particular. From
antiquity onward, equality has been considered a constitutive feature of justice. Throughout history, emancipatory movements have used the language of
justice to pillory existing social inequalities. But what exactly is the connection between equality and justice, i.e., what kind of role does equality play in a
theory of justice?
Depending on which philosophical perspective one adopts, contrary
answers may suggest themselves. Both equality and inequality are complex
and multifaceted concepts.1 In any real historical context, it is clear that no
single notion of equality can claim hegemony.2 Many egalitarians concede that
much of our discussion of the concept is vague and abstract, but they believe
that there is also a common underlying strain of important moral concerns
implicit in it. 3 Above all, the concept of equality serves to remind us of our
common humanity, despite our various differences. From this point of view,
then, equality appears, while not as one single principle, still as one coherent
idea that consists of a complex group of different principles. This is attested by
the fact that, up to this day, philosophers have defended a variety of principles
of equality, four of which will be mentioned in the following discussion.
Three well-known principles of equality seem today rather uncontroversial;
namely, (a)formal equality, (b)proportional equality, and (c)moral equality.
They will be quickly introduced in the following paragraphs to lay the foundations for the introduction and justification of a fourth and much more controversial principle; namely, the presumption of equality.
(a) Formal Equality: when two persons have equal status in at least one
normatively relevant respect, they must be treated equally with regard to this
respect. This is the generally accepted formal equality principle that Aristotle
formulated in reference to Plato:treat like cases as like.4 Of course, the crucial question is which respects are normatively relevant and which are not. The
formal postulate remains quite empty as long as it is unclear when or on the
grounds of which features persons or cases should be considered equal. All

See Larry Temkin, Inequality (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1993), ch. 2.


See Douglas W.Rae, Equalities (Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 1981), 132.
3
See Bernard Williams, The Idea of Equality, in Problems of the Self (Cambridge:Cambridge
University Press, 1973), 230249.
4
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), V.3. 1131a10b15; Aristotle, Politics, in: ibid.,
III.9.1280 a815, III. 12. 1282b181282b23.
1
2

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debates over the proper conception of justice, i.e., over who is due what, can
be understood as controversies over the question of which cases are equal and
which are unequal. 5 For this reason, equality theorists are correct in stressing
that the claim that persons are owed equality becomes informative only when
one is told what kind of equality they are owed.6
What is at stake here is a moral principle of justice, and with it the impartial
and universalizable nature of moral judgments in general:for if the postulate
of formal equality is morally acceptable, then more is required than simple
consistency of the principle with ones subjective preferences. What is more
important is its possible justification vis--vis others that are the potential subjects of the equal or unequal treatment in questionand this solely on the
basis of the situations objective features. That is, in order for the formal principle of equality to become a morally binding standard, one has to proceed
from it to a more substantial, well-grounded principle of equality that can be
justified to all persons concerned. One such substantialization of the principle
of formal equality is the principle of proportional equality.
(b) Proportional Equality: according to Aristotle, there are two kinds of
equality, numerical and proportional.7 A form of treatment of others or, as
a result of it, a distribution is numerically equal when it treats all persons as
indistinguishable, thus granting them the same quantity of a good, per capita.
That is not always just. In contrast, a form of treatment of others or a distribution is proportional or relatively equal when it treats all relevant persons in
relation to their due. Just numerical equality is, according to Aristotle, a special case of proportional equality:numerical equality is only just under special
circumstances, viz. if persons are equal in distributionally relevant respects,
then the corresponding proportions of the distributed goods must be equal
too. Proportional equality specifies formal equality further; it is the more precise and detailed, hence, actually the more comprehensive formulation of what
formal equality must entail in order to be morally acceptable. It indicates what
produces an adequate equality:if factors speak for unequal treatment or distribution because the persons concerned are unequal in relevant respects, the
treatment or distribution proportional to these factors is just. Unequal claims
to treatment or distribution must be considered proportionally:this is the prerequisite for persons being considered equally in a just sense.
Aristotle, Politics, 1282b 22.
See Thomas Nagel, Equality, in Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1979), 106127; Douglas W.Rae, Equalities (Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 1981);
Amartya Sen, Inequality Reexamined (Oxford:Clarendon Press; Cambridge:Harvard University
Press, 1992), 13.
7
See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1130b1132b; Plato, Laws, in Complete Works, ed. John
M.Cooper and D.S. Hutchinson (Indianapolis:Hackett, 1997), VI.757b757c.
5
6

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(c) Moral Equality and Social Equality:even though the principle of proportional equality is a widely accepted standard of distributional justice nowadays, there is a minimal overlapping consensus among all leading schools of
modern Western political and moral culture that some fundamental features
of people may not be used to justify their unequal treatment and must thus
be excluded from considerations of proportional distribution. 8 More specifically, in spite of descriptive differences in certain relevant respects, all persons
should be regarded and treated as moral equals, so that they are essentially entitled to the same basic moral rights and duties. The principle of treatment as an
equal is not the same as equal treatment; it does not imply being entitled to an
equal share, but being treated as a free and equal person.9 Following this assertion of the fundamental moral equality of all persons, different persons should
be equal in their social status. This is the morally and politically fundamental
principle of basic moral equality. As a moral ideal, it asserts that all people are
of equal moral worth (or in other words:equal dignity) and that there are some
claims that people are entitled to make on one another simply by virtue of their
status as persons.10
Since treatment as an equal is an almost universally shared moral standard in contemporary theory, present-day philosophical debates are concerned with the kind of equal treatment that is normatively required when
we mutually consider ourselves persons with equal dignity. The principle of
moral equality is too abstract and needs to be made concrete if we are to arrive
at a clear moral standard. Nevertheless, no conception of just equality can be
deduced from the notion of moral equality. Rather, we find competing philosophical conceptions of equal treatment serving as interpretations of moral
equality. These need to be assessed according to their degree of fidelity to the
deeper ideal of moral equality.11
From moral equality, one can derive a prohibition on arbitrary unequal
treatment; that is, a prohibition on discrimination. Even if justice already
implies that nobody should be arbitrarily put at a disadvantage, this

8
See Gregory Vlastos, Justice and Equality, in Social Justice, ed. Richard Brandt (Englewood
Cliffs:Prentice-Hall, 1962), 3172. This does not mean that this demand for the basic equality
of all humans is in fact universally recognized; on the contrary, there are serious anti-egalitarian
critics who argue against equality for different reasons. For a recent discussion see Uwe Steinhoff,
ed., Basic Equality (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
9
See John Rawls, Justice as Fairness. ARestatement (Cambridge:Harvard University Press,
2001), section 7, who prefers to speak of the idea of free and equal persons.
10
See Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
1977), 179183; esp.277 and his well-known formulations treating as equals and equal concern and respect which, however, require further interpretation and elaboration.
11
Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy (Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1990), 44.

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171

explication still leaves open which differences between persons are morally
irrelevant and therefore should not be considered and which differences are
to be considered. Moral equality does not completely fill in this variable, but it
restricts it in an important respect. Different treatments of concerned parties
based on differences in gender, race, social background, ethnicity, language,
culture, religion or due to social hierarchies, etc., are morally arbitrary. This
is because differences in natural endowments are differences for which the
respective people are not themselves responsible, and therefore cannot justify
different treatment. Otherwise the principle of moral equality would be violated. Thus primary discrimination (as one might call it) is excluded. Primary
discrimination is to be understood as unequal treatment on the assumption
of given differences of value between people that justifies allegedly different
(often proportional) claims, whereas secondary discrimination is a differential treatment of persons who are regarded as morally equivalent.12 The purest
form of the principle of primary discrimination is the norm that attributed
character differences determine the value of a person and that the treatment
or distribution has to follow this different value.13 In this sense, the principle
of primary discrimination represents the opposite of the principle of moral
equality. As such, primary discrimination includes all forms of oppression,
whether people are subjected to exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness,
cultural imperialism or violence.14 Characteristic of the modern understanding of morality is that one can no longer believe in the possibility of a nonarbitrary, impartial justification of primary discrimination. This could refer
only to metaphysical truths, which one can contest without being unreasonable. Moral equality follows negatively from the reasonable insight into the
failure of all attempts at a nonarbitrary justification of primary discrimination. The struggle against primary discrimination of all kinds is and remains
thus a classic egalitarian concern. It represents the heart of egalitarianism,
which, despite general philosophical acceptance, has lost nothing of its political relevance.15
Through the prohibition and struggle against every form of primary
discrimination, the claim of each person to be treated as morally equal
should secure their fundamental, equal social and political status as equally
See Ernst Tugendhat, Vorlesungen ber Ethik (Frankfurt a.M.:Suhrkamp, 1993), 375378.
Ibid., chap.3, esp.4751.
14
See Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton:Princeton University
Press, 1990), ch. 2.
15
Those critics who criticize the more extensive distributive principles of modern egalitarianism also stress this, because egalitarianism no longer corresponds to its central concern, e.g., Iris
Marion Young in Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton:Princeton University Press, 1990)
and Elizabeth Anderson, What Is the Point of Equality? Ethics 109, no. 2 (1999):287337.
12
13

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legitimate members of society. These claims to social and political equality are
thus also based on the acknowledgement of universal moral equality. They
also exclude all unequal, hierarchical forms of social relationships by which
some people dominate, exploit, marginalize, demean, and inflict violence on
others:As a social ideal, it holds that a human society must be conceived of
as a cooperative arrangement among equals, each of whom enjoys the same
social standing. As a political ideal, it highlights the claims that citizens are
entitled to make on one another by virtue of their status as citizens, without any need for a moralized accounting of the details of their particular
circumstances.16
These aspects of political and social equality therefore fall under the
principle of moral equality, but they do not exhaust it. Forms of secondary discrimination or differentiation are not excluded from moral, and in
this respect, social equality, if they are compatible with the recognition of
equal social status of concerned parties, as for example, differences according to merit, need, but also, if appropriate, according to race, gender, and
background, as in cases of affirmative action or fair punishment. Where
there is social equality, people feel that each member of the community
enjoys an equal standing with all the rest that overrides their unequal ratings
along particular dimensions.17 The upshot is that moral equality requires
social and political equality but leaves open the question whether other
dimensions such as e.g., a persons natural talents, creativity, intelligence,
innovative skills or entrepreneurial ability can be the basis for legitimate
inequalities.18 This fact should make it already clear that claims to social and
political equality, as justified as they are, can never exhaust all justified entitlement to justice and equality in the social and political sphere. Thus, even
16
Samuel Scheffler, What is Egalitarianism? Philosophy & Public Affairs 31, no. 1 (2003):22
and Samuel Scheffler, Choice, Circumstances and the Value of Equality, Politics, Philosophy &
Economics 4, no. 1 (2005):528.
17
David Miller, Equality and Justice, Ratio 10, no. 3 (1997): 232. Miller regards social
equality as a value distinct from justice, as does Jonathan Wolff, Fairness, Respect, and the
Egalitarian Ethos, Philosophy & Public Affairs 27, no. 2 (1998):97122. For examples of views
that draw both on justice and on a value of social equality distinct from justice, see Thomas
Scanlon, The Diversity of Objections to Inequality, in The Lindley Lecture, Lawrence:University
of Kansas (1996) and Martin ONeill, What Should Egalitarians Believe? Philosophy & Public
Affairs 36, no. 2 (2008):119156.
18
Th at these are forms of illegitimate inequalities is the claim of so-called luck-egalitarians
e.g., Ronald Dworkin, What Is Equality? Part2:Equality of Resources, Philosophy & Public
Affairs 10, no. 4 (1981): 283345; Richard Arneson, Equality and Equality of Opportunity
for Welfare, in Equality: Selected Readings, ed. Louis Pojman and Robert Westmoreland
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 229241 and G. A. Cohen, On the Currency of
Egalitarian Justice, Ethics 99, no. 4 (1989):906944.

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173

if one sees social justice in a society as analogous to friendship or marriage


as a relationship of equals19 (as unrealistic as that might be), the question
of which kinds of secondary discrimination or specification are required by
justice is still left entirely open.
To determine any morally appropriate conduct requires more than a reference to equal social status or standing. This is important because in order
to adjudicate a claim to a legitimate equal or legitimate unequal standing to
others in society, one first of all needs a comparative standard. Secondly, one
needs a certain conception of what an equal standing in society amounts
to and implies in terms of rights and goods. Since forms of oppression and
domination, e.g., marginalization, status hierarchy, domination, exploitation, and disrespect, are seldom self-evident, the question arises about the
legitimacy and justification of such claims. Recourse must be made to a theory of morality and justice, which by means of a justification procedure is
able to assess claims as appropriate or inappropriate. For justice is concerned
with which claims about what things (i.e., treatment or goods) are to be justified
vis--vis whom on what grounds. Imperatives of justice always have to do with
fair treatments and shares, which can be determined only in procedures of
justification.
This requirement of universal and reciprocal justification is linked to the
morality of equal respect in that this morality demands that each individual
becomes equally considered in every instance of justification and distribution. This principle states that norms can be regarded as justified if, and only
if, free and equal persons, who wish to regulate their co-existence by means
of such norms, are rationally able to agree on the norms in question. 20 Since
it is immoral to force someone to do something of which he or she does not
approve, only reasons acceptable to the other person can give one the moral
right to treat this person in a specific way. According to the principle of moral
equality, two people regard each other as equals if each accepts the obligation to justify their actions by principles acceptable to the other, and in which
they take mutual consultation, reciprocation, and recognition for granted.
Equal consideration is thus accorded to all persons and their interests. Equal
For such a view, see:Scheffler, What is egalitarianism? 22.

For such views, see Immanuel Kant, Groundwork on the Metaphysics of Morals
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, [1785] 1997); John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 2nd
ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, [1971] 1999); Thomas Scanlon, What We Owe to
Each Other (Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 1998), esp. ch. 5; Jrgen Habermas, Moral
Consciousness and Communicative Action (Cambridge, MA:MIT Press, 1990); Bruce Ackerman,
Social Justice in the Liberal State (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1980), esp. ch. I.; Rainer
Forst, The Right to Justification:Elements of a Constructivist Theory of Justice (NewYork:Columbia
University Press, 2011).
19

20

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respect, which we reciprocally owe to one another, thus requires respect for
the autonomous decisions of each noninterchangeable individual. The core
of the value of equality is a normative conception of human relations. This
normative conception sees the autonomy of each individual as the standard
of justification for general rules, norms, rights, etc. To treat persons as equals
and to grant them social and political equality amounts to granting them a
right to justification.
With these clarifications and specifications of moral equality, it should be
clear that equal or equal measure in the context of moral equality is in no
way purely formal or empty or redundantas alleged by critics. 21 Here,
rather, it refers to the independence of moral justification from all power relations and primary discriminations. This principle excludes certain differences,
such as first- and second-class citizens, as morally unjustified. It allows only
those differences that are determined by means of justification procedures to
be in principle acceptable by all. Equal and equal measure have therefore
an essential function in this principle.

8.2 Introducing the Presumption


In order for equality to become more concrete than moral, social and political
equality and for it to be applicable, one has to proceed from these ideals to an
even more concrete principle of equality. Thus, the questions that remain to
be answered are the following:first, which kind of equal treatment or distribution is normatively required if we reciprocally regard each other as persons of
equal dignity and of equal social and political standing? Otherwise it would
remain unclear what moral equality and social justice as social relationships
of equals demand in terms of treatment and distribution. Thus we have to
know:by means of which procedural principle shall we construct a substantial conception of just treatment and distribution from the abstract premise
of moral equality? Once we have adopted such a procedural principle, the
second problem that needs to be solved is:according to which criteria shall
we apply it; that is, what are the normatively relevant criteria that shall decide
the equal or unequal treatment of individuals and distribution of resources
to them?
21
See H.L.A. Hart, Between Utility and Rights, Columbia Law Review 79, no. 5 (1979):fn.
42; Robert Goodin, Political Theory and Public Policy (Chicago:Chicago University Press, 1982),
89f; Charles Larmore, Patterns of Moral Complexity (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press,
1987), 6; Joseph Raz, The Morality of Freedom (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1986), chap.9.;
J. R.Lucas, Against Equality, Philosophy 40, no. 154 (1965):296307.

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175

At first sight, the answer to the question, i.e., which kind of distribution is normatively required under the premise of moral equality, seems
clear. Insofar as one can generally and reciprocally justify certain differences among individualsbeyond their equal dignityas being relevant
in terms of treatment and distribution, it is imperative that they be treated
proportionally to those differences. Proportional equality is thus the principle of formal equality.
To give an example, children and adults should, according to this principle, normally partake of different amounts of calories in order to satisfy their
equal claim to adequate and sufficient nutrition. The adequate allocation of
calories then is a case of proportional equality. Adults and children are treated
unequally in terms of what they receive (namely, unequal amounts of calories)
but are treated equally in terms of their claim to adequate nutrition. Reasons
for an unequal distribution are proportionally accounted for; this is the precondition for the consideration of everyone as equal. Therefore, consideration
and a fortiori treatment as equals means equal treatment in proportion but not
in result.
If we assume that there is no persuasive alternative to proportional
equality, because the known alternativessuch as market-based liberal
theories of property, needs-based theories, aggregate theories that are
egalitarian only in an instrumental sense (such as utilitarianism), or a
theory of complete, strict, numerical equal treatmentseem implausible
and unjust for a number of reasons, then we must determine those criteria
that are capable of justifying equality or inequality of people in terms of
treatment and distribution. 22 Once we know which (descriptive) features
are morally relevant, it is neither necessary nor even possible to stipulate
a primacy of (quantitatively or numerically) equal distribution anymore,
for it is those criteria that then determine the mode of distribution in the
first place.
However, the question of how we shall proceed in those cases where we do
not have relevant criteria at our disposal or where no relevant differences can
be found remains to be answered. Thus, we are looking for a secondary principle that is the default option if the primary principle of distributive justice,
i.e., proportional equality, is not applicable.

22
Th is is actually a core debate among social egalitarians. However, the criteria for a justified unequal distribution need not be discussed here. The following arguments still work independently of which relevant criteria will turn out to be justified. More on the justification of
these criteria can be found in Stefan Gosepath, Gleiche Gerechtigkeit. Grundlagen eines liberalen
Egalitarismus (Frankfurt a.M.:Suhrkamp, 2004), ch. V.

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It is precisely here, Isubmit, that the procedural principle of the presumption


of equality takes effect.23 This is a prima facie principle of equal distribution for
all distributable social goods:24
Everyone must be treated numerically or strictly equally irrespective of their descriptive differences, unless certain (types) of
difference(s) are presently relevant and successfully justify, through
generally acceptable reasons, unequal treatment or unequal
distribution.

This approach is not uncommon. To name the most prominent proponents:Henry Sidgwick
speaks in The Methods of Ethics (London: Macmillan, 1874), 380 of onus probandi (burden of
proof). Hugo Bedau (in Egalitarianism and the Idea of Equality, in Equality (Nomos IX), ed.
J.Roland Pennock and John Chapman (NewYork:Atherton Press, 1967), 327 and Gosepath
(in Gleiche Gerechtigkeit, ch. II.8) call this postulate of equality the presumption for equality.
Stanley Benn and Richard Peters speak in their influential discussion in Social Principles and the
Democratic State (London: Allen & Unwin, 1959), 111 of a presumption against inequality.
Bernard Williams calls it in The Idea of Equality, in Problems of the Self (Cambridge:Cambridge
University Press, 1973), 230249 the relevant reasons approach; Richard Hare in Freedom and
Reason (Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1963), 118 the corollary of the requirement of universality;
Ernst Tugendhat in Dialog in Leticia (Frankfurt a.M.:Suhrkamp, 1997), ch. III the postulate
of symmetry (Symmetriesatz); Wilfried Hinsch in Gerechtfertigte Ungleichheiten. Grundstze
sozialer Gerechtigkeit (Berlin/NewYork:de Gruyter, 2002) the default option. See also Derek
E. Browne, The Presumption of Equality, The Australasian Journal of Philosophy 53, no. 1
(1975):4653; Peter Westen, Speaking of Equality (Princeton:Princeton University Press, 1990),
230 ff.
24
Here, it is resources construed as all-purpose goods that constitute the object of distribution. Resources (or goods) is a general term that encompasses material goods (money, jobs,
property), social goods (chances, privileges, prestige), and political goods (rights, authority,
liberties). The term chosen is deliberately broad because it can then subsume everything that a
society deems valuable, attributable, and a potential object of a just distribution. Rights, liberties, chances, self-respect, and human dignity are goods in a broader sense, goods that we value
and would like to possess. Of course they are a special type of goods and differ from goods of
consumption. Rights, liberties, and chances do not simply exist as natural goods. Rather, they
are created through the organization of our social existence. They are created when a society
regulates the distribution of other goods. This means that both in the case of material goods and
when it comes to rights and opportunities, we regulate moral entitlements; that is, entitlements
detailing which goods, rights, and opportunities one can legitimately expect and how one may
use them. Also, the question of which rights and duties ought to be accorded to whom is resolved
in the same way as the question of the distribution of goods. The principles of distributive justice
that determine who is entitled to what, when, and according to which principle determine the
claims that citizens ought to mutually accord one another from a moral point of view. In this way,
they establish moral rights and the corresponding duties. Providing a justification for (specific)
rights is nothing other than intersubjectively justifying a distribution of certain types of goods as
something that one must mutually accord to one another as a consequence of a mutual recognition as equals.
23

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177

The example of the distribution of a cake is frequently used in this context and
shows how obvious this principle is:25 a parent wishes to share a cake among
his or her childrenhow should he or she do this if we assume that all children
would like their slice to be as large as possible? If no child can advance a convincing reason why his or her slice should be larger than everyone elses, then
the cake must be divided into equally large pieces. Orto use an often cited
example in the discussion on the equality of distribution 26 how should the
crew of a ship that has landed on a desert island distribute the local resources?
Relevant reasons for an unequal distribution would be, for example: needs,
acquired rights, merit, and maximizing utility.
The presumption accords a primacy to equal distribution only in terms of
formal reasoning. Unequal distribution requires justification; equal distribution
does not. In principle, this is compatible with every form of inequality insofar as
it can be justified. However, it allocates the burden of proof in a way that makes
it more difficult to justify inequalities. We find a similar presumption effective in
criminal proceedings:as long as doubts about the relevant facts persist, i.e., as
long as a case has not been proven to the judge, a criminal sentence may not be
imposed (in dubio pro reo).27 Here, too, the burden of proof lies with the one who
seeks to justify an unequal treatment (in this case, a specific judicial sentence):it
is not that the accused must prove his innocence, but that the state or prosecutor
must prove his guilt. This principle is analogous to the presumption of equality.

8.3 Different Accounts of the Presumption


So how does one explain that numerically equal distribution has priority and
why must the onus probandi lie with the proponents of unequal distribution? To
begin with, one must grant the critics that the presumption of equality, whenever it is mentioned in the pertaining literature and discussions at all, is rarely
argued for.28 Some authors hold that this presumption can be inferred from the
See Isaiah Berlin, Equality as an Ideal, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 61 (1955
56): 301326, at 305; Ernst Tugendhat, Vorlesungen ber Ethik (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp,
1993), 373 f.; id., Dialog in Leticia, 69; id., Gleichheit und Universalitt in der Moral, in id.,
Moralbegrndung und Gerechtigkeit, ed. Marcus Willaschek (Mnster:Lit, 1997), 11.
26
See Dworkin, What is Equality? Part2:Equality of Resources.
27
The in dubio-postulate is mainly referred to as a judicial specification of the presumption
of innocence, which in turn is deduced in different ways from and thus founded on constitutional
norms, such as the rule of law, basic rights, and human dignity.
28
E xceptions are Ernst Tugendhat in Vorlesungen ber Ethik, 373 f.and Dialog in Leticia, ch.
III, esp.68, who must be given credit for being one of the few who developed a normative argumentation for the presumption of equality, and Wilfried Hinsch, Angemessene Gleichheit,
in Modelle politischer Philosophie, ed. Rolf Geiger, Jean-Christophe Merle and Nico Scarano
25

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formal equality postulate that stipulates that like cases be treated alike.29 From
this, they argue, it should follow that all individuals must be treated equally as
long as no reasons for an unequal treatment can be found. But the presumption
of equality can in fact not be immediately deduced from the formal equality
postulate:the mere absence of specific reasons for unequal distribution cannot
ipso facto ground a claim to universalization. Otherwise, this would imply that
the relevant situations in question have already been identified as being equal
in a normatively relevant sense. But what is it that should be treated equally in
the first place? There are situations in which we do not even know which cases
can count as being equal. Iventure that the presumption of equality ought to be
applied even when it has not yet been determined whether all cases to be considered for distribution are equal in a prescriptive sense. Therefore, the formal
equality postulate does not contain the presumption of equality. Similarly, the
presumption cannot be deduced from proportional equality, for this contains
a prescription only for cases that are nonequal. The presumption of equality,
by contrast, applies to cases where no relevant reasons either for equality or
inequality in treatment can be identified.
More frequently, it is argued that we know the presumption to be valid by
intuition. Often the above mentioned example of the cake is then used as a kind
of circumstantial evidenceequal distribution should evidently follow simply
because there is no specific reason that justifies unequal distribution. But if we
rely on our intuitions to confirm a normative principle, we must ask ourselves
where, in turn, this intuition stems from, and whether there are any other plausible explanations at hand. For example, with reference to the cake-case, it is
not clear (to say it again) why equal distribution should follow simply from the
fact that reasons for unequal distribution are absentone might also argue,
for instance, that it is the childrens positive claim to their parents equal care
and respect that grounds an imperative of numerically equal distribution.
Moreover, the appeal to the presumptions intuitive plausibility often seems
to operate by way of exclusion:if there are (ex hypothesi) no reasons for one
particular kind of unequal distribution, then what, many people argue, would
be left but the option of equal distribution? It seems, then, that for them, equal
distribution is the default setting, as it were, unless a case can be made for

(Paderborn: Mentis, 2003), 260271. According to Tugendhat, justifying morals, generally speaking, means justifying it to all. The concept of justification is, to him, thus more basic
than moral principles and already contains a reference to equality. For a critique of Tugendhats
argument, see the essays in Markus Willaschek (ed.), Ernst Tugendhat. Moralbegrndung und
Gerechtigkeit (Mnster:Lit, 1997).
29
For a review of the relevant literature and critique see Westen, Speaking of Equality, 233,
esp. fn. 8.

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179

reasonable exceptions. But this reasoning precludes alternative possibilities


for filling this vacuum. For it must be taken into account that those in favor of
unequal distribution do not, as a rule, attribute an intrinsic value to inequality. 30 Instead, they refer to a rule with a specific content, usually along the lines
of the meritocratic idea that distribution should reflect individual achievement. Therefore, it isas we shall see shortlyvery well possible to think of
reasonable, well-grounded justifications for an unequal distribution even in
those cases where an immediate reason for unequal distribution is lacking:the
just solution to situations such as these does not necessarily have to be numerical equality.
And this would in fact not be inconsistent with the presumption, insofar as
the latter includes the possibility of there being material reasons for unequal
distribution:31 if one counter-factually assumed that all distributable goods
were always distributed completely according to criteria such as needs, merit,
and other differential criteria, and if one further assumed that these criteria
were universally acceptable as a justification for unequal distribution, the presumption would indeed never become effective. It could be compatible with a
highly stratified pattern of distribution. It is only because, empirically, it is very
unlikely that all distributable goods are always distributed completely along
justified criteria such as needs, merit, and so on, that there is normally space
for the presumption to come into play.
In order to gauge arguments for and against the presumption of equality, we
must thus posit such a situation where criteria for a justified inequality either
do not apply or, if they do, still leave some goods that remain to be distributed.
If this is assumed, certain goods must be left over for whose equal or unequal

30
Such a position, which to my knowledge nobody has ever put forward, must fail for the same
reasons as a position that ascribes equality an intrinsic value. Intrinsic egalitarians regard equality
as desirable even if the equalization would be of no use to any of the affected partiese.g., when
equality can only be produced through depressing the level of everyones life. But something can
only have an intrinsic value when it is good for at least one person, i.e., makes one life better in
some way or another. The well-known leveling-down objection indicates that doing away with
inequality in fact ought to produce better circumstancesit would otherwise be unclear why
equality should be desired. For such an objection see Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia
(New York: Basic Books, 1974), 229; Joseph Raz, The Morality of Freedom (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1986), ch. 9, 227, 235; Larry Temkin, Inequality (Oxford:Oxford University
Press, 1993), 247248.
31
W hether merit constitutes a justified reason is subject to debate and may, at this stage of
our argument, remain undecided because this question cannot help us to arbitrate between the
presumption and possible alternatives. Many contemporary theories of justice consider merit,
however, a morally arbitrary criterion for distribution (cf. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 2nd
ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press [1971], 1999), 64 f., 87 f.; cf. Gosepath, Gleiche
Gerechtigkeit, ch. V.I. 2.f).

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distribution no convincing material reasons can be found. Only in this situation


can the presumption be put to the test. Thus, the presumption of equality does
not apply, in the first place, as an alternative option to certain material reasons
ofequal or unequaldistribution but only, in the second place, as a default
option if these material reasons do not allow for a complete (equal or unequal)
justified distribution for all goods.
Whythis is thus the follow-up question that needs to be asked now
should numerical equality be the standard for distribution in situations where
there are no reasons for inequality but positive reasons for an equal distribution of goods are similarly lacking? After all, one could think, prima vista, of
three not implausible alternatives to this presumption of equality. (1)Where
positive reasons in favor of equality or inequality are absent, all possible ways
of distribution (including equal distribution) assume an equal (or indifferent)
standing, and thus all would be equally acceptable. (2) In this case of moral
indifference, another possibility would be to randomize the outcome so that
in the last resort not all possibilities of distribution would be equally acceptable but (with an indifferent starting position) only that kind of distribution
that owes its existence to a random factor. Avariant of this idea is the notion
of the protection of acquired possession:32 property is often defended on the
grounds of the historical or natural character of its distribution; for example,
in the case of a countrys natural resources or because the free market produces, through mechanisms of supply and demand, a certain allocation of
goods that the current possessors then claim to be theirs. 33 (3)Athird alternative would be to refrain from a distribution of goods for as long as no positive
reasons for equality or inequality can be put forward until a reasonable case
can be made for redistribution. In a world where all goods have already been
distributed, this option also results in the protection of acquired possessions;
all goods then remain the property of their former possessors. If the existing
factual relations of property cannot be justified on their own grounds (and if
they could, this would mean that, contrary to the original premise, positive

32
The protection of possession is, in my experience, one of the most commonly used criteria
of distribution.
33
This inequality cannot ex hypothesi be defended on the grounds of individual attributes
(such as merit or need), but at most on the grounds that the natural or social processes which have
resulted in the distributional pattern in question canfor identifiable reasonsbe considered as
justified. See Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia. If Nozicks argumentation were successful, the
justified, historically evolved patterns of distributions could be regarded as well-founded exceptions from the presumption of equality. However, Iagree with many critiques of Nozick. See, for
example, Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy, 2nd ed. (Oxford:Oxford University
Press, 2001), ch. 4.

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181

arguments for that distribution do exist), then again we would end up with a
historically contingent allocation.
All in all, it thus seems that the different variants of the idea to randomize distribution present a serious alternative to the presumption of equality. If,
however, historical evolution of distribution or simple randomization are seen
as substantial acceptable reasons for unequal distributione.g., when they are
considered as Gods willthen they are no longer alternatives to the presumption but must be examined as possible candidates for justified inequalities within the presumptions framework:they would then apply for as long as
it is possible to identify a certain pattern of distribution as truly random or
truly historically evolved; in cases where it is impossible to decide which distribution fulfills this requirement, however, the presumption of equality could
still be used as a standard of action or decision. 34 An argument in favor of the
presumption, such as Inow wish to present, must thus exclude random distribution as an alternative principle of distributionbut it need not do more (e.g.,
refute random distribution per se as a form of justified inequality).

8.4 ASubstantive Justification in Favor of


the Presumption
The argument in favor of the presumption of equality, I propose, can be
obtained from two premises whose plausibility is largely accepted and that are
closely connected to the abstract notions of justice and moral equality as they
have been introduced in the beginning of this paper. The first premise (which
will be referred to as the principle of adequacy) follows from the explication of the concept of justice and maintains that justice requires the adequate,
impartial and formally equal consideration of everyones moral and legal
claims. It is generally agreed that the meaning of justice is that an action is just
if, as a result, everybody is given what they are entitled to. By definition then,
every kind of justice is based on entitlement and appropriateness. Arbitrariness
would violate the principle of adequacy. From the point of view of justice,
every situation may only be judged on the basis of those objective features that
are relevant for an adequate consideration of an individuals moral rights. That
which cannot be justified as just can, from a normative point of view, no longer
34
I n some situations, principles of historical priority (such as first come, first served or
standing in line) and fair lottery (such as the flipping of a coin) may indeed provide the best standard of procedure, especially if the goods to be distributed are not divisible in a way that would
allow every interested person to receive a share and thus a method must be found that grants
everybody the same chance of receiving the desired good.

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be sustained. The second premise is the requirement of justification and stems


from the explication of the principle of moral equality or equal human dignity
or from the principle that people should be treated as equals. Norms can be
regarded as justified if, and only if, free and equal persons, who wish to regulate their co-existence by means of such norms, are rationally able to agree on
the norms in question. The principle of justification specifies what constitutes
a good justification of the adequacy of a situation or action; namely, only that
kind of justification that takes the interests of all those concerned into equal
consideration. The principle of justification thus determines in which respect
a situation or action is adequate.
The presumption, Isubmit, follows from the two premises in the following
way:since every person must be able to claim for himself all advantages, and in
particular, all goods in his possession on the grounds of reciprocal and general
reasons, together, the principle of justification and the equal consideration of
all subjective (moral or legal) claims require a justification for situations that can
in principle be changed. Asituation that can be changed is subject to the claim of
justice; that is to say, its justice or injustice must be established by means of the
principle of justification and be corrected as necessary. The equal and adequate
consideration of all subjective claims demands that suum cuiqueeach have
his own. Adifferent allocation of goods can only be justified on the grounds
of relevant differences among all those concerned. Only such differences that
are relevant in terms of distribution can justify unequal treatment as adequate
to each and every person. An unequal distribution without such justification
would be arbitrary. Justice, however, requires the exclusion of all arbitrariness.
Thus where no relevant differences exist (either because no one can stake a
justified claim to certain goods in the first place or because all demands have
been satisfied), everyone must receive the same amount of goods. 35
In public distribution, anyone who lays claim to more than an equal share
owes all others an adequate universal and reciprocal justification. If this cannot be provided, i.e., if there is no reason for unequal distribution that can be
universally and reciprocally justified to all, 36 then equal distribution is the
35
This is not a pragmatist justification of the presumption. Apragmatist justification is, however, presented by Edna Ullmann-Margalit in On Presumption, Journal of Philosophy 80, no. 3
(1983), 143162, esp.155, who argues for the presumption as a means to overcome a stalemate in
a practical deliberation. Louis Katzner argues in Presumptions of Reason and Presumptions of
Justice, Journal of Philosophy 70, no. 4 (1973), 89100 and Presumptivist and Nonpresumptivist
Principles of Formal Justice, Ethics 81, no. 3 (1971), 253258 that the presumption is only justifiable on the grounds that it will lead to the least damage to all.
36
Th is is based on the assumption that all are, by and large, equal in the relevant sense; otherwise, their apparent differences in the relevant sense would provide reasons for unequal treatment or distribution.

T he Principles and the Presumption of Equalit y

183

only legitimate principle of distribution. How could it be otherwise? Any


unequal distribution would mean that someone receives less, and another
more. Whoever receives less can justifiably demand a reason for being disadvantaged. Yet there is ex hypothesi no such justification. Hence, any unequal
distribution is illegitimate in this case. If no convincing reasons for unequal
distribution can be brought forward, the only option remaining is that of equal
distribution. Equal distribution is therefore not merely one alternative among
many, but rather the inevitable starting point that must be assumed insofar as
one takes the justificatory claims of all to be of equal weight.
Does the presumption really follow from the two premises?37 Possibly, one
could accept the argument that we are often in possession of something or
that we have certain general advantages that we cannot justify generally and
reciprocally. But, one could critically object, why does it follow from this that
this possession or advantage should be given away? Thus, the problem remains
of how to deal with morally indifferent possessions or advantages for which
no justification can be given. Again we are faced with the preservation of historically contingent distribution or the principle of random choice as possible
alternatives to the presumption.
Having presented the argument in favor of the presumption of equality, however, we can now show why these apparent alternatives are not, in
fact, solutions:it is because the presumption follows from the justification
requirement. The justification requirement morally applies to all possibilities of distribution. If one assumes ex hypothesi that there are no good reasons for an unequal distribution, then random distribution is no justifiable
alternative to the presumption; it violates the principle of adequacy. If goods
are distributed at random, differences will result that cannot be justified on
grounds of individual differences between persons. The distribution does
not do justice to those concerned, even if the unequal treatment is not an
expression of an (unjustified) explicit rejection of the principles of equality.
Every person may demand justification as to why he or she should have been
assigned less by lot than another person, and why he or she should accept
this. Thus, random choice is not universally justifiable as a distribution
procedure. 38
From the first premise, moreover, one can extract an additional second
one:namely, that we may only speak of a condition as being just if we can
37
On the argumentation against the presumption, see Thomas Schramme, Die Anmaung
der Gleichheitsvoraussetzung, Deutsche Zeitschrift fr Philosophie 51, no. 2 (2003), 255275;
Harry Frankfurt, Equality as a Moral Ideal, Ethics 98, no. 1 (1987), 2142.
38
Unless the persons concerned have intersubjectively agreed in some cases to distribute by
allotment on a random basis and thus this distribution is justified.

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conceive of all distributable goods as being distributed according to the


principles of justice. Already existing distributions must be justifiable on
the grounds of the well-known consideration that, in a hypothetical situation, they would have come about in just this way, i.e., by an adequate
consideration of the individuals moral rights. Every other conceivable distribution (random or already existing) does not as such take into account
the individuals moral claims. Thus, random choice, again, does not fulfill
the condition of adequacy. Conditions that are inadequate, not justifiable,
and therefore unjust are morally in need of correction, as can be inferred
from the aforesaid first premise based on the concept of justice. This is why
the objection mentioned (I may not have a justified claim to my possessions
but why should anyone else have one?) fails. If the principle of justification
is not fulfilled, then the requirement of justice is consequently violated,
too, as not everyone is considered as equal. We are confronted with an
unjustified and therefore unjust condition that can and must be converted
into a just one. Thus any kind of random choice is excluded (unless it operates within the framework of the presumption as a candidate for justified
inequalities).
In situations such as these, where universally acceptable reasons for both
equal and unequal distribution are lacking, only the presumption of equality
fulfills the adequacy condition because it treats equal cases equally. If none
of the concerned persons can lay claim to a relevant difference, then all cases
are, in this respect, prima facie equal and must be treated equally in order to
be treated adequately and justly. This is why, according to this reasoning, a
society may take away a persons unjustified advantage or property and equally
distribute it among its members.
This is the argument for the presumption. 39 It demonstrates that equal
distribution is not merely one alternative among many, but rather the inevitable starting point that must be assumed insofar as one takes the justificatory
claims of all to be of equal weight.
The argument has also shown, however, that the presumption is not independent of a substantive moral conception of what a just distribution entails:it
explains the significance of equality as a default option while simultaneously
clarifying the very meaning of equality.
The presumption of equality provides an elegant procedure for constructing a theory of distributive justice. The following questions would have to be
answered in order to arrive at a substantial and full principle of justice. What
goods and burdens are to be justly distributed (or should be distributed)?
For this argumentation, see Gosepath, Gleiche Gerechtigkeit. Acomparable argumentation
can be found to my knowledge only in Hinsch, Angemessene Gleichheit.
39

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185

Which social goods comprise the object of distributive justice? What are the
spheres (of justice) into which these resources have to be grouped? Who are
the recipients of distribution? Who has a prima facie claim to a fair share? What
are the commonly cited, yet in reality unjustified, exceptions to equal distribution? Which inequalities are justified? Which approach, conception or theory
of egalitarian distributive justice is therefore the best? How such a theory of
justice will look is another matter.40

40

Ideveloped such a theory in Gosepath, Gleiche Gerechtigkeit.

On the Scope and Grounds of


Social Equality
R e k h a Nat h

9.1Introduction
In a globally interdependent world, the lives of individuals who belong to different states are connected in many ways. Bangladeshi workers in the garment
industry sew clothes sold by an American company to Australian consumers.
The Canadian agricultural sector depends on seasonal migrant workers from
Jamaica and Mexico. Fishermen from Southeast Asia may unexpectedly find
that they no longer have a market for their catch because their nets fail to meet
the latest environmental standards set by the European Union. Indian manufacturers of generic drugs are forced to close down operations due to international intellectual property rights regulations, and as a result many Malaysians
lose access to affordable medicines.
The terms of interaction between foreigners are largely skewed to favor
those in wealthier nations.1 Rich and powerful nations disproportionately
influence the terms of global interaction. The economic gains of global arrangements are not evenly spread. To be sure, many sweatshop workers and migrant
laborers have access to better opportunities than they would in the absence of
cross-border arrangements. But their gains are miniscule when compared to
the huge profits reaped by their well-off employers. Further, poor immigrants
often find themselves socially and culturally marginalized in the countries
where they take up residence.

See, for instance, Thomas Pogge, Politics as Usual:What Lies Behind the Pro-poor Rhetoric?
(Cambridge:Polity Press, 2010). Iuse foreigners to refer to individuals who are not citizens of
the same state, even if they happen to reside in the same state.
1

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187

Are the unequal terms that characterize the political, social, and economic
interaction between foreigners morally problematic? The unequal character of
these relations may be criticized to the extent that it contributes to the perpetuation of severe deprivation on a global scale. That effect would provide a
reason for taking those unequal relations to be objectionable. However, the
issue Iam interested in exploring in this essay is whether there is a distinctively
egalitarian reason for taking issue with such relations even in cases in which no
individuals involved live in conditions of severe deprivationthat is, a reason
that fundamentally concerns the unequal character of these relations.
To answer this question, we might turn to the literature on social equality.
On social equality, relationships ought to be structured on egalitarian terms.2
But most discussions of social equality do not appear to furnish an answer.
The recent literature has largely focused on the task of illustrating the relative
merits of this ideal in capturing what is fundamentally valuable about equality as compared to rival accounts of egalitarianism. 3 The issue of the scope of
social equalitythat is, between whom, or in the context of which relationships, demands of social equality arisehas received little significant discussion.4 The scope of the ideal in turn depends on a further issue, the grounds of
the idealthat is, the basis on which demands of social equality arise between
particular parties. This issue has received even less attention. My aim in this
essay is to explore these relatively neglected issues.
I will argue that if demands of social equality can arise in the context of the
state, then they can arise outside of that context. The basis for that conditional
Social equality is discussed by Elizabeth Anderson, What Is the Point of Equality?
Ethics 109, no. 2 (1999):287333; David Miller, Equality and Justice, in Ideals of Equality, ed.
Andrew Mason (Oxford:Blackwell, 1998), 2136; Martin ONeill, What Should Egalitarians
Believe? Philosophy & Public Affairs 36, no. 2 (2008):119156; T. M.Scanlon, The Diversity
of Objections to Inequality, in The Ideal of Equality, ed. Matthew Clayton and Andrew
Williams (Basingstoke:Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 4159; and Samuel Scheffler, Equality and
Tradition: Questions of Value in Moral and Political Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2010).
3
See, for instance, Scheffler, Equality and Tradition, chs. 7 What Is Egalitarianism? and
8Choice, Circumstance, and the Value of Equality, especially 229 n.26.
4
For some discussion of the scope issue, see Charles Beitz, Does Global Inequality
Matter? in Global Justice, ed. Thomas W. Pogge (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 106122; Miller,
National Responsibility and Global Justice. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 7779;
Rekha Nath, Equal Standing in the Global Community, The Monist 94, no. 4 (2011): 593
614; Richard Norman, The Social Basis of Equality, in Ideals of Equality, ed. Andrew Mason
(Oxford:Blackwell, 1998), 3751; and ONeill, What Should Egalitarians Believe? Miller is
skeptical about social egalitarian concerns arising outside of the state, whereas the other authors
advance considerations in favor of the application of social equality beyond state borders.
Anderson and Scheffler bracket the issue. See Anderson, What Is the Point of Equality? 321
and Scheffler, Equality and Tradition, 192 n.42.
2

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conclusion is relatively straightforward. Demands of social equality can arise


in the state for certain reasons. Analogous reasons justify drawing analogous
conclusions in cases in which the individuals standing in unequal relations are
citizens of different states. When we scrutinize the considerations that social
egalitarians advance for concluding that demands of social equality arise in
the state, it becomes plausible that underlying those considerations are morally relevant factors that can obtain beyond state borders. Thus, my argument
suggests an account of the grounds of social equality, and this account provides support for taking the scope of social equality to transcend the state.
I proceed as follows. In section 9.2, Iconsider the basis on which demands
of social equality obtain between fellow citizens, according to authors who discuss this ideal. In section 9.3, Iexplain problems that face the prospect of those
demands arising between foreigners. In sections 9.4 and 9.5, Iargue that those
problems do not rule out the application of social equality between individuals
who are not fellow citizens. In section 9.4, Ibegin to build a case for concluding
that the considerations offered by social egalitarians that might seem tied to the
context of the state are in fact not. In section 9.5, Icontinue building that case,
focusing on the issue of how to determine what measures would be required to
secure relations of equality in transnational contexts. Iexplain how satisfying
the demands of social equality that arise outside of the state would potentially
require different measures from those called for in the state. In section 9.6,
Iaddress objections to my argument and, in the process, refine my position.

9.2 Why Social Equality Applies in the State


In this section, Iwill explain both what the demands of social equality are and
why they arise in the state, according to those who discuss this ideal. 5 On some
construals of egalitarianism, the value of equality concerns peoples relative
distributive holdings. Social equality construes egalitarianism differently. It is
an ideal on which people ought to live together on terms of equality. On this
ideal the direct object of egalitarian concern is relationships rather than distributions.6 The fundamental aim of egalitarianism on this ideal is, as Elizabeth
The characterization of social equality Iprovide in this section is not tied to any particular
conception of the ideal. Rather, it is based on what Itake to be shared features of the different
conceptions advanced by the authors whose views Iconsider.
6
See, for instance, Elizabeth Anderson, Equality, in The Oxford Handbook of Political
Philosophy, ed. David Estlund (NewYork:Oxford University Press, 2012), 4057 and Scheffler,
Equality and Tradition, 199200. Some authors whom Icount as social egalitarians focus on the
value of egalitarian relations as instrumental in explaining the value of distributive equality. See,
for instance, ONeill, What Should Egalitarians Believe?
5

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189

Anderson puts it, to replace social hierarchies with relations of social equality. 7 Relations are construed broadly to include face-to-face interpersonal
relationships as well as relationships that are mediated by institutional rules or
by social norms and practices. Articulating the intuition that is foundational
to social equality, Samuel Scheffler writes, we believe that there is something
valuable about human relationships that are, in certain crucial respects at least,
unstructured by differences of rank, power, or status.8
Social egalitarians take issue with a wide range of unequal relations. Some
of these relations are politicalfor example, as in cases in which members
of some social groups are denied equal political rights or lack an effective
voice in the political process compared to their fellow citizens.9 Social egalitarians also take issue with certain unequal social relations. Examples include
race-based residential segregation and lack of accommodation of disabled citizens in public spaces. These practices are considered objectionable insofar as
they compromise individuals capacity to enjoy equal standing in social settings.10 Social egalitarians also take issue with certain unequal economic relations. For instance, they oppose significant gaps in the distribution of income
and wealth that stand in the way of individuals from different socioeconomic
classes relating on terms of equality.11
Although they manifest themselves in diverse ways, the unequal relations
that social egalitarians oppose all exhibit a hierarchical character. As Scheffler
observes, hierarchically structured relationships are a pervasive, and perhaps
even an inescapable, feature of social life.12 The problem, for social egalitarians, is not hierarchy itself. And, accordingly, social egalitarians do not take
issue with all hierarchical relationships. So, on what basis are certain hierarchical relationships objectionable while others are not, according to defenders of
social equality?
On social equality, certain hierarchical relations are objectionable because
they express the inferiority of some persons and thereby fail to treat those persons as equals. In part, the objectionable nature of practices that do this concerns the wrong of making some persons feel inferior to others, causing those
parties to endure negative psychological effects. Take a society that treats
gay and lesbian individuals with contempt based on their sexual orientation,
Anderson, Equality, 40.
Scheffler, Equality and Tradition, 225.
9
M iller, Equality and Justice, 30 and 3435; Scanlon, The Diversity of Objections to
Inequality, 52.
10
Anderson, The Imperative of Integration (Princeton, NJ:Princeton University Press, 2010)
and What Is the Point of Equality? 320 and 331.
11
Miller, Equality and Justice, 3435; Scanlon, The Diversity of Objections to Inequal
ity, 52.
12
Scheffler, Equality and Tradition, 225226.
7
8

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denying them the same formal rights enjoyed by others. This practice may
cause gay and lesbian individuals to experience feelings of shame, humiliation, and a compromised sense of self-respect. But such psychological considerations are not the only ones that bear on whether a hierarchical relation
is objectionable for social egalitarians. Consider Andersons contention that
even if the practice of racial segregation in American public schools had not
made black students feel a sense of inferiority to white students, [i]t would
still have been wrong to brand them as inferiors, as the system of racial segregation did.... on account of the principles of contempt or inferiority that it
expresses, whether or not it has a negative impact on others welfare.13 This
statement suggests that on social equality it is wrong to treat some persons as
inferior to others not only because of the negative psychological effects experienced by those treated that way.
But if we set aside how the participants of hierarchically structured relationships feel, on what further basis can we conclude that certain hierarchical
relationships problematically treat some as inferior while other hierarchical
relationships do not? For social egalitarians, particular hierarchical relations
are problematic in particular social contexts because, in those contexts, those
relations express inferiority. In explaining how this can happen, most authors
focus on relations in the state.14 These authors maintain that all fellow citizens
should enjoy equal standing.15 It is on this basis that social egalitarians take
issue with the unequal relations mentioned abovean unequal assignment
of political rights, segregation in public spaces, exclusion from participation
in civil society, and rigid socioeconomic class divisions. In their view, such
practices express the idea that some members of society are inferior to others,
thereby failing to treat them as equals vis--vis their fellow citizens.
These considerations suggest that the status of citizenship provides a baseline with reference to which members of a society are entitled to being treated
as equals. But why is citizenship key to this entitlement? That is, why should fellow citizens enjoy equal standing in relation to each other? The mere fact that
certain individuals happen to be formally accorded the status of citizenship
13
A nderson, Anderson replies to Arneson, Christiano, and Sobel, in Brown Electronic
Article Review Service, ed. Jamie Dreier and David Estlund (1999), http://www.brown.edu/
Departments/Philosophy/bears/9912ande.html. See also ONeill, What Should Egalitarians
Believe? 130 and Scheffler, Equality and Tradition, 228.
14
For instance, see Anderson, What Is the Point of Equality?; Miller, Equality and Justice;
Scanlon, The Diversity of Objections to Inequality; and Scheffler, Equality and Tradition.
15
See Miller, Equality and Justice, 33 and Scheffler, Equality and Tradition, 191 and 226.
Anderson too focuses mostly on the claims to equal standing of fellow citizens, although she
thinks that persons who are not fellow citizens may have such claims in relation to one another
as well. See What Is the Point of Equality? 316326.

On the Scope and Grounds of Social Equalit y

191

seems irrelevant. For instance, even before 1868, when the American government first legally recognized African Americans as citizens, defenders of social
equality would have taken relations between blacks and whites in the United
States to qualify as objectionably inegalitarian. It appears, then, that the formal status of citizenship must be a placeholder for something more fundamental that characterizes the relationship between members of a society.
Part of what seems relevant here is that fellow citizens lives are characterized by dense interconnections with one another. Such interconnections
are the inevitable result of living under common institutional arrangements.
Within the context of the state, individuals are subject to the rules of background institutions that define the character of their political, social, and
economic interaction. Societys institutions pervasively shape the lives of
citizens by regulating their distributive entitlements, upholding their basic
rights, and defining their formal political and social standing. Subjection
to institutional terms that accounts for such interconnectedness is, for the
most part, unavoidable and nonvoluntary. It is not as though members of a
society choose for their lives to be intertwined or to participate in the aforementioned institutions.
It is because fellow citizens are deeply interconnected through institutions
and social practices that hierarchical relations between them have the potential to convey inferiority.16 This might explain why most authors who discuss
social equality take the ideal to concern the design of institutional rules and
social practices. That is, they take the call for treating individuals as equals
to primarily concern the relations in which individuals stand as participants
of structural practices.17 Moreover, since fellow citizens cannot help but partake in the structural practices that pervasively influence their lives, they
cannot avoid defining themselves in relation to one another. Between those
whose lives are bound together in this way, shared social meanings, attitudes,
M iller, Equality and Justice, 33; Scheffler, Equality and Tradition, 226228.
A nderson takes demands of social equality, in the first instance, to concern the design of
structural norms and practices in which individuals are enmeshed. In her view, how individuals
treat each other when taken in abstraction from the backdrop rules and norms that structure
their relationships is not of direct concern, on social equality. However, the demands of social
equality are borne indirectly by individuals in their capacities as participants of structural relations. And in this capacity, Anderson takes individuals to have obligations to justify the character of the rules and norms that they jointly partake in upholding and imposing on one another.
See Anderson, Equality, 42; What Is the Point of Equality? 313, 332, and 336; and The
Fundamental Disagreement between Luck Egalitarians and Relational Egalitarians, Canadian
Journal of Philosophy 36, sup. 1 (2012): 123. Miller, Scanlon, and Scheffler also focus on the
design of institutional rules and social norms in their discussions of social equality. But these
authors do not explicitly endorse the view that social egalitarianism concerns only individuals
structurally mediated relations.
16
17

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and perceptions can play an important role in informing what it means for
them to enjoy equal standing vis--vis one another.18
Consider a few illustrations in support of this last claim. Anderson notes
that for an individual to enjoy equal standing in American society requires
literacy... it does not require literacy in any language other than English, nor
the ability to interpret obscure works on literary theory. In other countries,
multilingual literacy might be required for equal standing.19 In a similar vein,
Thomas Scanlon discusses the objectionable nature of significant economic
disparities as a result of which, some people experience shame and humiliation because they must live in a way that is far below what most people in the
society regard as minimally acceptable. 20 These examples suggest that social
egalitarian concerns arise in the state in part because individuals come to
define themselves vis--vis one another through shared norms in that context.
These reflections get us closer to what, for social egalitarians, is relevant
about citizenship. Demands of social equality arise in the state, it seems,
because of the dense and mostly unavoidable interconnections between fellow citizens. These considerations suggest an account of the grounds of social
equality (that is, of the basis on which the call for relations of equality arises
where it does):demands of social equality arise between individuals whose
lives are unavoidably interconnected by structural practices that pervasively
shape their interaction. This account provides an explanation of why individuals who share a state ought to relate as equals. Individuals so situated
owe one another justification for the terms that profoundly and unavoidably
characterize their interaction. Thus, it seems reasonably clear that, according to social egalitarians, it is (at least in part) facts about dense and largely
inescapable interconnectedness that explain why demands of social equality
arise in the state.

9.3 Obstacles for Extending Social Equality


Outside the State
I have given an account of why demands of social equality arise in the state,
for those who take them to. In the next section, Iwill argue that if the case for
social egalitarian demands arising in the state is sound, then these demands
can also arise between individuals who do not share a state. The latter claim,

A nderson, What Is the Point of Equality? 319320


Ibid., 319.
20
Scanlon, The Diversity of Objections to Inequality, 52.
18
19

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193

that such demands can arise between foreigners, might seem implausible.21 In
this section, Iwill explain why. That is, Iwill articulate reasons that might be
given for the view Ireject, that the call to structure relations on egalitarian
terms can arise only in the context of the state. 22
The relationship between fellow citizens differs markedly from the relationship between foreigners. There is no global equivalent of the state. To
begin with, there is no global society in which all individuals worldwide are
formally recognized as members. Moreover, there is no global association
in the context of which individuals from different states partake in a multitude of shared political, social, and economic practices that significantly
shape their day-to-day lives. Interaction between foreigners has a more fragmented character than interaction between fellow citizens. For example, a
Bangladeshi sweatshop worker may have no connections with her American
employers beyond the fact that she works for them. Likewise, the lives of seasonal migrant workers, fishermen affected by trade relations, and the manufacturers and consumers of generically produced drugs may not be densely
interconnected with those of foreigners. And while the states rules influence
most aspects of the lives of all of its citizens, the lives of some individuals
worldwide remain relatively unaffected by transnational rules and norms
despite increasing globalization.
Furthermore, although many foreigners interact and influence one another
in numerous ways, they might not see themselves as sharing in a common
life. More likely, they tend to feel a greater sense of belonging in their respective political societies, each with its distinctive cultural traditions, norms, and
practices. Foreigners often speak different languages, and social interaction
between them is typically minimal when compared to that between fellow citizens. For these reasons, foreigners might not feel a sense of mutual identification
21
Earlier (in footnote 1)Inoted that my use of the term foreigners includes two different
groups:first, individuals who reside in the same state but are not fellow citizens, and, second, individuals who are not fellow citizens and reside in different states. One might think that demands of
social equality arise between those in the first group but not between those in the second. In what
follows, however, Iargue that demands of social equality can arise in both cases. So, my argument about the scope of this ideal takes as its target those who maintain that social egalitarian
demands cannot arise between foreigners at all as well as those who take such demands to arise
only between foreigners who reside in the same state.
22
The reasons Iraise in this section for skepticism about social egalitarian demands arising
between foreigners are discussed by Miller, National Responsibility and Global Justice, 7779
and Satz, What Is the Point of International Equality? Comments of Darrel Moellendorf s
Cosmopolitan Justice, International Journal of Politics and Ethics 3, no. 2 (2003): 224239, at
229231 and 234235. See also Freeman, Justice and the Social Contract (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2007), 267273 and 294 on the distinctive nature of the relationship between
fellow citizens.

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or define themselves vis--vis one another. Consequently, it may seem that


hierarchical relations between foreigners are not of the kind that would problematically convey inferiority to some of them. Such relations, it seems, would
not threaten to undermine their claims to be treated as equals. It is not clear
that there is any relevant sense of equal standing that foreigners ought to enjoy
with reference to each other that hierarchical relations between them could
undermine.
Given the inaptness of regarding all individuals worldwide as belonging to a single, unified global society, how could demands of social equality
arise outside of the state? Indeed, if social egalitarian demands were to arise
between foreigners, it is not clear who, or what, would be the addressee of
those demands. In the context of the state, demands of social equality apply
primarily to the background institutional rules and norms of the state, and fellow citizens have obligations to one another with respect to the design of those
rules and norms. Consider a state in which the institution of marriage is predicated on inegalitarian terms that favor men over women. Social equality does
not, in the first instance, imply that married individuals in this state ought to
treat their spouses differently so as to reduce gender-based disparities. Rather,
social equality would primarily call for altering the institution of marriage so
as to avoid systematically producing patterns of gender-based discrimination.
The same requirement applies generally to the rules, norms, and practices that
shape fellow citizens relations. However, in the case of inegalitarian relations
between foreigners, there is no single set of background rules that define the
terms on which they interact. So, in this case, it is unclear to whom or what the
demands social equality would be addressed.
There is yet another reason to be skeptical of the prospect of social egalitarian demands applying outside of the state context. One cannot realistically
avoid standing in relations of interdependence with ones fellow citizens. But
relations of interdependence between foreigners might not seem similarly
unavoidable.23 If we consider the arrangements characterizing cross-border
relations that Isurveyed at the outset of this essay, it might seem that inter
action between foreigners is often a matter of choice. For instance, it seems
that foreigners can simply choose to avoid participating in transnational networks of trade, labor, and production. Voluntary arrangements are generally
thought to give rise to different standards of justification than nonvoluntary
ones. Even if certain terms of interaction favor some parties subject to them
over others, they may be justified as long as they are the product of the consent

M ichael Blake appeals to this sort of reasoning in his Distributive Justice, State Coercion,
and Autonomy, Philosophy & Public Affairs 30, no. 3 (2002):257296, at 292.
23

On the Scope and Grounds of Social Equalit y

195

of those parties. Thus, the idea that demands of social equality can arise between
foreigners appears to face significant challenges.

9.4 The Case for Extending Social Equality


Outside the State
In this section and the next, Iwill argue that, despite the problems described in
the previous section, demands of social equality can arise between foreigners if
they can arise between fellow citizens. Let us begin by looking again at the considerations that social egalitarians advance in support of the claim that demands
of social equality arise within the state. As we saw in section 9.2, these considerations include an appeal to the notion that all individuals ought to be treated as
equals with respect to their status as fellow citizens. But the reference to citizenship turned out to be a stand-in for other features that are associated with that formal status, namely, unavoidable and significant social interconnectedness. That
reasoning seems plausible enough. But it gives rise to a question: Why exactly does
such interconnectedness matter?
To answer this question, it will prove helpful to reconstruct the reasoning
for why social egalitarian demands arise in the state according to defenders of
the ideal as follows. They begin with the idea that certain unequal relations are
morally objectionable. To identify which such relations are objectionable, they
point to social interconnectedness between fellow citizens, which arises because
the states terms centrally define the character of interaction within its bounds.
Further, it seems relevant that individuals are nonvoluntarily subject to those
terms. That reasoning suggests that social egalitarians support a principle along
the following lines:individuals should not be inescapably subject to terms that
avoidably produce inegalitarian relations. Expressed positively, this principle
states that individuals ought to enjoy equal standing in relation to one another
under the rules and norms to which they are unavoidably subject.
I will argue that, on reflection, that reasoning (if sound) justifies the conclusion
that demands of social equality are not restricted in their application to the context of the state. Consider a case that builds on one discussed by Michael Blake.24
Borduria and Syldavia are societies that reside on opposite sides of a mountain, and
24
Blake, Distributive justice, State Coercion, and Autonomy, 289294. My aims differ
from his in using this example. Whereas Blake is concerned with whether there are cross-society
demands to address material inequalities, Iam concerned with the issue of whether there are
cross-society demands to address inegalitarian relations. For that reason, I have modified the
case by depicting various unequal relations that may result from how members of the two societies interact.

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members of each have long been unaware of the others existence. The Bordurians
enjoy a much higher standard of living than the Syldavians, which is partly due
to the comparative abundance of valuable natural resources in the Bordurian territory. One day, a few Syldavians traverse the mountain and find themselves in
Borduria. These Syldavians, the first to make their way into Borduria, marvel at
how much better things are on this side of the mountain. Wandering into a vast
orchard, they stake a claim to a few small plots, which look rather neglected. After
the Syldavians have been tending to their newly acquired land for a few months,
some Bordurians inform them that they are trespassing and that if they do not
leave immediately the authorities will be called.
I am going to argue that social egalitarian demands arise between the
Bordurians and Syldavians. The first thing to notice is that the case is one in
which members of each society make competing claims to the use and ownership of the same material holdings. And this is significant. Whenever parties
are positioned to make such competing claims, addressing the given conflict
is, in a sense, unavoidable. It might seem otherwise. After all, such parties
could elect to leave each other alone, thereby retreating from their conflict.
For example, the Syldavians could abandon the orchards and return to their
home country. However, retreating is not neutral:it affects how the competing claims are resolved. The Syldavians taking that course of action settles
the conflict in the Bordurians favor. Effectively, then, retreating is a way of
addressing the competing claims. So, the question then arises of how individuals positioned to make such competing claims ought to address those claims. 25
This seems to be a case in which demands of social equality arise between
foreigners, given the reasoning sketched above that provides a basis for these
demands arising in the state. In the state, structural practices can undermine
the equal standing that ought to be enjoyed by fellow citizens by treating
some as inferior to others. So, for instance, on social equality, the practice of
race-based segregation in American schools is objectionable because it treats

Iam not claiming that in such cases parties who are positioned to make competing claims
cannot, as a practical matter, avoid the adoption of formal, publicly known, or settled institutional terms in order to resolve the conflict. Rather, Iclaim that in the face of competing claims,
at any given moment these claims will, as a matter of fact, be addressed in some way or another
whether by actions or omissions on the part of some or all of the involved parties. I take this
claim to hold in cases of ongoing disputes, in which at different points in time, different parties
might exercise de facto control over the material holdings at issue. This claim holds also in cases
in which there is no actual risk of conflict arising and consequently no apparent practical need
for parties to establish terms adjudicating between competing claims. Across these different scenarios, my basic point is that a subject matter of moral assessment necessarily obtains. That is,
the way in which competing claims are addressed stands in need of justification to the parties
involved in the conflict.
25

On the Scope and Grounds of Social Equalit y

197

some citizens as inferior to others based on their skin color. But unequal relations can convey inferiority between parties who are not fellow citizens. This
can manifest itself in different ways.
Suppose that after the initial Syldavian explorers make their way into
Borduria, the Bordurians adopt strict border control policies that prevent
Syldavians from entering their society unless they are granted visas. Over the
following decades, the Bordurians and Syldavians forge various cross-border
economic ties. Sweatshop factories are established in Syldavia. These factories
draw on the cheap and abundant local labor force of Syldavia to manufacture
goods produced by Bordurian companies for Bordurian consumers. Further,
some Syldavians take up the lowest paying jobs in Borduria, as seasonal agricultural workers. These immigrants reside in slums populated only by other
Syldavians. Due to language barriers and their different customs, the Syldavian
immigrants are not integrated into the broader civil society of Borduria. They
feel a sense of isolation. Although they reside and work in Borduria for many
years, they are offered no path to citizenship and their children are not admitted to Bordurian public schools. The Bordurians look down on the Syldavian
immigrants and prefer to minimize interaction with them. They make no
effort to work toward greater social inclusion of these foreigners.
Suppose that the various cross-society economic practices, though mutually beneficial, disproportionately serve the Bordurians interests. Owing to
those practices, the average Bordurian consumer now has access to a wider
range of cheap manufactured goods, and the standard of living is improving
across the board for Bordurian citizens. By contrast, Syldavian citizens are
only slightly materially better off as a result of the cross-society arrangements.
As the lives of the Bordurians and Syldavians become more integrated over
the years, individuals from either society come to cultivate a stronger sense
of a shared identity. Prior to establishing these arrangements, the Syldavians
accepted their way of life, knowing no other possibility. Now they strive for
what the Bordurians have. But opportunities for social and economic advancement are lacking. As their interdependence grows over generations, the
increasing material disparity between members of either society results in the
Syldavians feeling as though they belong to a virtually inescapable underclass.
So, in this scenario, the Bordurians and Syldavians eventually develop
significant interconnections. And some of the unequal relations that emerge
between them may seem to objectionably convey inferiority to the Syldavians.
These inegalitarian relations may strike us as regrettable. But do these relations also violate constraints that social equality places on how these parties
may permissibly treat one another? That is, are the Syldavians owed that which
would enable them to relate on more egalitarian terms to the Bordurians? They
are. The case is similar in all morally relevant respects to the case of American

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racial segregation. In particular, the inegalitarian relations are the product of


terms to which these individuals are subjected nonvoluntarily. Let me elaborate on why this is so.
The Bordurians and Syldavians are subject to the terms of a cross-border
arrangement that defines and upholds their respective distributive entitlements. Consider these terms from the Syldavians perspective. Syldavians are
prevented from entering Borduria except under the conditions specified by
Bordurian immigration policies. Furthermore, the claims of Bordurian citizens to all the material holdings within their bordersland, natural resources,
as well as that which is recognized as their property by their governmentare
enforced against the Syldavians. Under this arrangement, significant material
inequalities between the Bordurians and Syldavians persist, and these material inequalities translate into inegalitarian relations between them.
The emergence of such inegalitarian relations is not inevitable. Adifferent
design of the terms regulating cross-society interaction would enable more
egalitarian relations between the Bordurians and Syldavians. For instance,
more egalitarian relations could be achieved under an arrangement that produced less cross-society material inequality. Alternatively, perhaps through
the adoption of policies promoting greater social inclusion of Syldavian immigrants, the translation of significant material inequalities into inegalitarian
relations could be prevented. In the face of the competing claims they are
positioned to make, the Bordurians and Syldavians cannot avoid addressing
how those claims are adjudicated (where, again, retreating counts as addressing the conflict). Since they must find some way to regulate their interaction,
they have an obligation to justify to one another how they do so. To be justified, the design of the terms regulating their interaction must be sensitive to
social egalitarian concerns. The terms that produce the inegalitarian relations
described above where Iintroduce the case are not sensitive to such concerns.
Based on this line of reasoning, we see that it is implausible to regard the relations produced by those terms as merely regrettable. Rather, the imposition
of those particular terms would be morally wrong. The perpetuation of such
inegalitarian relations reflects a failure on the part of those who uphold those
terms to treat all those subject to them as equals. This assessment is supported
by reasoning parallel to that which social egalitarians use to criticize the terms
that generate hierarchical relations between fellow citizens.
Thus, the Borduria-Syldavia case illustrates how the reasons advanced for taking social egalitarian demands to arise between fellow citizens provide a basis for
taking such demands to arise between foreigners. Fellow citizens are seen as having obligations to each other to ensure that the shared rules and collective practices they uphold do not produce objectionably unequal relations. This is because
in the state context, interaction between fellow citizens is virtually unavoidable,

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and it can convey inferiority given their significant interconnectedness. On this


same basis, it seems wrong for foreigners, such as the Bordurians and Syldavians,
to be subjected to an arrangement that avoidably generates inegalitarian relations between them. So, the demands of social equality seem to have wider scope
than might have initially been thought to be the case.

9.5 What Social Equality Outside


the State Requires
Now Iturn to the issue of what sorts of substantive measures might be called
for where social egalitarian demands arise between foreigners. This issue
seems to be an important one given the considerable differences in how foreigners interact as compared to how fellow citizens interact. As Idiscussed in
section 9.3, the lives of fellow citizens tend to be marked by significant political, social, and economic interconnectedness, while interaction between foreigners tends to have a comparatively fragmented character. Consequently,
individuals tend to feel a stronger sense of mutual identification with their fellow citizens than they do with foreigners. Moreover, in the state context, we
have clear intuitions about certain practices, such as racial segregation in public schools, being incompatible with treating all fellow citizens as equals. But
with respect to relationships between foreigners, it is less clear which practices
threaten to undermine their ability to live together as equals. In this section,
Iwill address these issues.
What is called for to secure relations of equality varies from case to case.
As the lives of foreigners become more interconnected, prospects for inegalitarian relations between them increase. Accordingly, what is required to
maintain equal standing may be substantial. For instance, consider the case
of the Bordurians and Syldavians years after their initial encounter, when
numerous cross-border ties have been forged. To avoid the stigmatization of
long-term Syldavian residents, Bordurians may be required to grant those
individuals the opportunity for citizenship and its associated privileges. And
the persistent lack of social and economic mobility endured by the Syldavians
as the Bordurians grow ever wealthier may call for measures that expand the
Syldavians opportunities for advancement. 26
26
Iagree with other social egalitarians that the issue of how we are to work out what relations of
equality require in particular cases ought to be sensitive to the views of the participants of the given
relationships. Thus, from an impartial, removed perspective, only so much progress can be made
in particular cases in identifying which practices are in tension with individuals being treated as
equals. See Anderson, What Is the Point of Equality? and Scheffler, Equality and Tradition, 226.

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In other cases, the demands of social equality may be relatively modest.


For example, suppose that for many years following their initial encounter
the Bordurians and Syldavians have almost no contact with one another. In
this scenario the two peoples simply do not stand in the sorts of hierarchical
relationships that would seem to conflict with the demands of social equality. But that is not to say that social egalitarian demands do not arise. On the
contrary, they do. To see why, recall the point of first contact between the two
societies. At that moment, the persons involved are positioned to make competing claims. And as we have seen, such competing claims must be addressed
in some manner. How they are addressed ought to be justified to each of the
parties so positioned. Any way in which those competing claims are addressed
that leads to objectionable inegalitarian relations would not be justified. So,
in that sense, demands of social equality are in play from the outset. That is,
from the start, each of these individuals has a claim to that which is needed to
secure his or her equal standing in relation to the others. What that implies
precisely what is needed to secure equal standingdepends on the nature of
interaction between the relevant parties. But on social equality, equal standing
must be secured between all those who are subject to terms that shape their
interaction with others, even when that interaction is minimal.
We are now in a position to address a different concern raised above, in
section 9.3. It may seem that a great deal of interaction between foreigners,
unlike between fellow citizens, is optional. For example, it might seem that the
Bordurians and Syldavians need not interact. Certainly it looks as though the
Bordurians are under no obligation to outsource labor to Syldavia or to hire
foreigners as migrant workers. And if they need not interact in these ways at all,
then it seems that they would not be obligated to relate on equal terms if they
choose to interact in these ways. And if this is so, the reasoning goes, then it is
a mistake to conclude that their interactions, extensive though they may eventually become, ought to be predicated on egalitarian terms. In other words,
although demands of social equality apply between individuals who cannot
avoid partaking in a densely interconnected political, social, and economic
life, such demands do not arise between those for whom partaking is optional.
But that argument is unconvincing for two reasons. First, demands of social
equality arise even in cases in which foreigners choose to avoid interacting
in particular waysfor instance, by opting not to forge transnational labor
ties or by instituting closed-border immigration policies. Foreigners who are
positioned to make competing claims cannot avoid regulating their interaction in some way. Therefore, how they do so should be justified. The terms
regulating these individuals interaction should not undermine their ability to
enjoy equal standing in relation to each other. As in the minimal-interaction
Bordurian-Syldavian case discussed two paragraphs back, the substantive

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measures called for to maintain equal relations between foreigners may be


extremely modest. But modest demands are demands nonetheless.
Second, it does not follow from the fact that parties can (as a matter of feasibility) avoid relations of significant interconnectedness that such avoidance would
be morally permissible. It is not hard to imagine cases in which a failure to interact in certain ways would itself convey inferiority. Suppose that the Bordurians
decide to sever all ties with the Syldavians, closing down sweatshops and deporting all Syldavian migrant workers. They do this on the grounds that they regard
the Syldavians as having a backwards culture that is inferior to their own, and
they do nothing to hide that ugly rationale. This course of action seems to run
afoul of the demands of social equality no less than in other cases we have considered. Analogously, suppose that in response to race-based segregation in public
schools the governments response is to close down rather than integrate those
schools. As that case illustrates, disengaging from those treated as inferior by
reducing interaction with them can itself problematically convey inferiority. So,
all that the considerations concerning choice and the possibility of disengagement show is what Ihave already granted:social egalitarian demands between
foreigners may be satisfied, in some instances, by less robust measures than those
that are generally required in the state context.

9.6 Objections and Replies


I have argued that social egalitarian demands can arise between individuals
who do not share a state if such demands arise in the state. In this section,
Iconsider some objections. To begin with, one might object that my account
of grounds is based on an implausible claim about when individuals are owed
justification:that a demand for justification arises between individuals solely
on the basis of their being positioned to make competing claims over material
resources.27 To see why that claim might seem implausible, consider an example. Suppose that my neighbor admires my stylish bicycle, and she would very
much like to take it from me. It is one of several in my vintage collection. She
thinks it unfair that Ihave so many fine bicycles while she cannot afford to buy
even one. Since she could easily steal this bicycle from me, she is positioned
to make a claim to ita claim that competes with my mine. So, my account
seems to imply in this case that my neighbor is owed justification for how this
dispute is resolved. And so, perhaps in light of the value of reducing inequality,
a justified resolution would grant recognition to my neighbor as the rightful
owner of this bicycle. But that seems absurd. This suggests that justification for
27

Iam grateful to the editors of this volume for raising this objection.

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how distributive entitlements are determined does not arise simply because
some people happen to be positioned to make competing claims to some good.
Instead, what may seem to matter is whether people have legitimate standing
to make competing claims in the first place.
I agree that if my account of grounds (combined with claims about the value
of reducing the inequality in this case, which can be granted for the sake of
argument) leads to the conclusion that my neighbor is the rightful owner of my
bicycle, then the account should probably be rejected. Fortunately, my account
does not have that consequence. My account does imply that my neighbor is
owed justification for how the dispute over the bicycle is settled. But that justification does not in the first instance concern our competing claims over the
bicycle taken in isolation from the design of the background institutions of our
society. Rather, the justification directly concerns the design of background
institutions that regulate property rights. Consequently, if the rules of my
societys property rights system are justified, then they provide a basis for the
justification that my neighbor is owed. And on those terms (assuming they are
justified), she does not have a legitimate claim to take my bicycle because Iam
recognized as its rightful owner.
A different objection is that my argument focuses too much on individuals and fails to give sufficient attention to the rights of political societies.
For example, much of my discussion centers on the competing claims that
Syldavian citizens are positioned to make to the distributive holdings claimed
by Bordurian citizens. In focusing on the property rights of Bordurian citizens
that are enforced against Syldavian citizens, the objection runs, Ihave ignored
a more fundamental right that is enforced against those Syldavian citizens:the
territorial right of the Bordurian society at large. Unlike property rights of
individuals, which are a matter of the ownership and use of material holdings,
territorial rights claimed by states have a broader scope.28 Territorial rights are
generally taken to consist of three main components that apply within specified boundaries:a jurisdictional right to impose laws, a right to use and control
territory and natural resources, and a right to exclude outsiders from entry.29
Shifting the focus from individuals property rights to states territorial
rights potentially introduces morally relevant considerations that have thus far
been absent from my discussion. Some authors argue that the exercise of territorial rights enables states to provide morally valuable goods for their members. Different accounts of the morally valuable goods that states provide their
members have been defendedincluding, for instance, self-determination,
See, for instance, Freeman, Justice and the Social Contract, 286 and 307308.
My characterization of territorial rights is based on David Millers in Territorial
Rights:Concept and Justification, Political Studies 60, no. 2 (2012):252268, at 252253.
28
29

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the protection of autonomy and basic rights, and the realization of distributive
justice. 30 The defense of territorial rights grounded in these sorts of considerations takes the following general form. 31 Call the given morally valuable good
or set of goods that a state secures, or is positioned to secure, x. Astates ability
to realize x for its members depends on its ability to exercise a territorial right,
which entails the imposition of some claims on outsiders. Thus, to the extent
that a state does, or is positioned to, secure x for members, it is justified in exercising a territorial right against outsiders. And if a state is justified in exercising
a territorial right against outsiders, then it seems to follow that the state would
not owe justification to those outsiders for the character of cross-society relations that may emerge based on its legitimate exercise of that right.
But this objection is no more convincing than the first. The first point to
note about this sort of defense is that the territorial rights of states that it delivers are prima facie rights. And this is just what we would expect. For defenders
of territorial rights, that a state secures x for its members does not imply that
it enjoys an unconditional territorial rightfor instance, permitting a state to
claim as much territory as it pleases regardless of the implications this would
have for outsiders. 32 Rather, how far-reaching a states territorial right is must
be sensitive to concerns about how those against whom it is enforced would
be affected. So, taking states territorial rights rather than individuals property rights as a starting point does not undermine my claim that foreigners are
owed a justification for how they are affected by the claims imposed on them.
Moreover, it is instructive to note that, from the perspective of parties
like the Syldavians, it will likely make little difference whether we focus on
the claims imposed on them by the Bordurian states territorial right or by
Bordurian citizens property rights. In either case, the Syldavians may be prevented from using or taking any material goods in Borduria and from entering
the Bordurian territory except as permitted by Bordurian immigration laws.
Since in shifting focus to territorial rights a demand for justification to foreigners still arises, what we must assess is the basis for concluding that considerations of social equality would not be a part of that justification. Isee no
good reason to draw that conclusion. If one believes otherwise, then perhaps
Some authors take a states territorial right to derive from the rights of individual members
of that state, while others focus on the rights of collective units, such as nations.
31
Ifocus only on the general form of the argument and do not engage with particular details
of different versions of it. See the following defenses of states territorial rights:Miller, National
Responsibility and Global Justice; Cara Nine, Global Justice and Territory (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2012); A.J. Simmons, On the Territorial Rights of States, Philosophical
Issues 11, no. 1 (2001): 300326; and Anna Stilz, Why Do States Have Territorial Rights?
International Theory 1, no. 2 (2009):185213.
32
See, for instance, Miller, National Responsibility and Global Justice, 221.
30

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one is reasoning as follows. Making a states exercise of its territorial right conditional on its satisfying cross-society demands of social equality could undermine that states capacity to secure x for its members. For instance, suppose
that on social equality the Bordurians must adopt measures enabling much
greater social integration of Syldavian immigrants in their society. And the
adoption of such measures could place a significant strain on the Bordurians
capacity to preserve culturally distinctive traditions that are important to
their community. In this sort of case, it appears that satisfying social egalitarian demands could infringe on their self-determination. 33
My reply to this move is two-fold. First, this concern about social egalitarian demands applying between foreigners is a conditional one. It applies
only in scenarios in which striving for egalitarian relations between foreigners
would actually conflict with a states ability to secure x. But, conceivably, there
are cases in which the pursuit of more egalitarian relations between foreigners
would not clash with those other values. For instance, it seems possible that
the social inclusion of Syldavians could be promoted without infringing on the
Bordurians exercise of self-determination. For the objection to threaten my
argument, it would have to be shown that demands of social equality necessar
ily conflict with the realization of x. And that seems doubtful.
Second, even in cases in which the pursuit of social equality between foreigners would come into conflict with the realization of x, it is not clear that
this would provide a basis for concluding that the demands of social equality do not arise in that context. Ido not suggest that the call for egalitarian
relations categorically trumps other moral considerations. Itake the value of
egalitarian relations to play a constitutive role, alongside other values, in justifying terms that regulate interaction across (and within) societies. 34 In this
regard, my defense of social egalitarian demands arising between foreigners (if they arise between fellow citizens) is modest. Accordingly, in cases of
conflict, Ithink we must consider what is at stake in promoting one value at
the expense of another. It seems that social egalitarian considerations should
count for something. Plausibly, if terms to which individuals are unavoidably
subject perpetuate deeply inegalitarian relationships between them, then
those terms are in that respect unjustified to those who are treated as inferior,
Christopher Heath Wellman defends this sort of line in his Immigration and Freedom
of Association, Ethics 119, no. 1 (2008): 109141. Based on the value of self-determination,
Wellman argues that legitimate states have a right to close their borders and thereby exclude
foreigners with whom their members do not wish to interact.
34
Other social egalitarians endorse the view that values besides that of seeking egalitarian relations are relevant to working out what individuals owe one another. See, for instance,
Anderson, Expanding the Egalitarian Toolbox:Equality and Bureaucracy, Aristotelian Society
Supplementary Volume 82, no. 1 (2008):139160, at 144 n.4.
33

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205

and perhaps also to the others. So, the onus seems to fall on my opponent to
explain why considerations of social equality should be given no weight at all
in justifying such terms.
Consider a different challenge to the claim that demands of social equality can arise between foreigners. One might hold that these demands arise in
the state, but not beyond it, based on the distinctive nature of cooperation
in the state. 35 This challenge begins with the observation that cooperation in
the state makes possible the secure enjoyment of significant economic and
social gains for citizens. Since such cooperation is sustained by fellow citizens,
it seems plausible that those citizens are jointly entitled to the gains thereof.
So, each individual ought to be positioned to participate on equal footing with
her fellow citizens in sharing in those gains in virtue of such cooperative relations, rather than relations of interconnectedness more generally.
However, foreigners who are positioned to make competing claims do not
appear to cooperate in an analogous way:theres no cross-society cooperation
that produces social and economic gains on a par with those made possible by
domestic cooperation. Consequently, cross-society demands of social equality might be rejected as there seem to be no cooperative gains with respect to
which foreigners have claims to being treated as equals. Even if the inegalitarian relations that arise between foreigners are unfortunate, requiring those in
better-off societies to remedy those relations would problematically infringe
on their entitlements to the gains of domestic cooperation.
One response to this objection is to reject the premise that the social
and economic gains enjoyed by members of one society do not rely on the
cooperation of foreigners. As Iargued in section 9.4, once individuals from
Borduria and Syldavian are positioned to make competing claims, it seems
that the Bordurians secure enjoyment of their property as defined by the
Bordurian government depends on Syldavians compliance with that property rights scheme. From that point forward, the Bordurians ongoing enjoyment of their material holdings is made possible partly by the Syldavians
compliance with the arrangement that defines and upholds Bordurians
property rights. So, it seems that the Bordurians owe the Syldavians justification for the terms for which their compliance is demanded. Thus, even if
domestic factors, such as the efforts of Bordurian citizens and the design of
their societys institutions, play an important role in explaining their enjoyment of certain benefits, the cooperation of foreigners seems to be an additional relevant factor that enables their enjoyment of the same.
For defense of this sort of reasoning, see John Rawls, The Law of Peoples (Cambridge
M.A: Harvard University Press, 1999), 113119 and Freeman, Justice and the Social Contract,
305307.
35

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Even so, the proponent of this objection may respond, it still seems that less is
owed to foreigners than to ones fellow citizens since cross-society cooperation
is much less robust than domestic cooperation. This is because the background
institutions of the state profoundly and pervasively affect citizens lives, while
cross-society rules and norms do not. In a characteristic articulation of this
view, Samuel Freeman writes of the state context, [i]t is not just fiscal policies,
taxation, public goods, and welfare policies... more basically, it is political decisions about the multiplicity of property rules and economic norms and institutions that make possible these policies, and economic and social cooperation as
well.36 He continues, noting that global norms pale in comparison.37 Thus, it
follows that significantly less weighty obligations arise between foreigners than
between fellow citizens. Indeed, those who point to the disanalogous nature of
cross-society cooperation generally argue that foreigners are owed consideration
only for their absolute levels of well-being and not more.38
The reasoning here seems to be that the comparatively laissez-faire nature of
cross-society cooperation justifies less demanding obligations arising between
foreigners than between fellow citizens. But that reasoning is suspicious.
Consider how analogous reasoning could be invoked to justify less demanding
obligations arising in the libertarians favored nightwatchman statethat is, a
state that carries out the sole function of enforcing a libertarian property rights
schemethan in a social welfare state. In the libertarian state, imagine that a
social policy is proposed that would raise income taxes for wealthy citizens for
the purpose of bringing about greater social mobility for societys poorest members. Arich citizen might protest this policy by pointing to the apparently minimal level of cooperation between her and the poor:I earned my wealth through
my own hard work. All that my poor fellow citizens did was comply with the
states property rights laws. In return, it seems absurd that they should have a
claim to a hefty proportion of my earnings to enable their participation as equals
in society. Instead, all they are owed by me is what they already enjoy:that I, in
turn, respect their property rights.
I will not rehearse here familiar considerations advanced against such libertarian reasoning when appealed to in the state context. For present purposes, it
Freeman, Justice and the Social Contract, 306.
Ibid.
38
Variants of this claim are defended in the literature. Blake, Sangiovanni, and Nagel maintain that badly-off individuals have claims on outsiders only to that which they need to avoid
threats to the fulfillment of their basic needs. See Blake, Distributive justice, State Coercion,
and Autonomy; Andrea Sangiovanni, Global Justice, Reciprocity, and the State, Philosophy
& Public Affairs 35, no. 1 (2007): 329; and Thomas Nagel, The Problem of Global Justice,
Philosophy & Public Affairs 36, no. 2 (2008):113147. In a similar vein, in The Law of Peoples,
Rawls argues that worse-off states are owed assistance only up to the level at which they are able
to establish minimally decent social institutions.
36
37

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is enough to note that those who would reject demands of social equality arising between foreigners based on this reasoning reject the application of such
reasoning when applied within the state. Thus, if they wish to apply parallel
reasoning in cross-society cases, they should explain why it does not fall prey
to parallel objections.
It may be argued that in the cross-society context less weighty demands
than those that arise in the state would be embraced not only by members of
better-off states but also by members of worse-off states. Perhaps this claim
would be defended on the grounds that all individuals would favor the greater
scope for political autonomy afforded to states by such a system. But if we give
serious consideration to the perspective of those, like the Syldavians, whose
interaction with foreigners potentially would be predicated on deeply unequal
terms, the plausibility of that claim seems questionable. Granting the, perhaps
dubious, claim that those in worse-off states would actually enjoy the posited
benefit of a laissez-faire cross-society system, would that benefit be worth the
cost of such unequal relationships for them? Again, why the value of egalitarian relations ought to be given no weight against these other considerations in
the cross-society context would need to be explained.

9.7Conclusion
Social egalitarians take issue with a wide range of hierarchical practices that
treat some people as inferior to others. On the ideal of social equality, the
call for realizing egalitarian relations concerns how individuals ought to live
together with respect to the design of the structural practices that characterize their interaction. Typically, this ideal is discussed as it applies in the context of the state to the relations between fellow citizens. In this essay, Ihave
argued that the considerations that social egalitarians advance in support of
demands of social equality arising between fellow citizens provide a basis for
those demands also arising between individuals who do not share a state. 39
39
Other discussions of how social egalitarian concerns may arise outside of the state do not,
for the most part, address the issue of grounds that Iexplore in this essay. For instance, see Beitz,
Does Global Inequality Matter? ONeill, What Should Egalitarians Believe? and my Equal
Standing in the Global Community. On these views, inegalitarian relations between foreigners
may be regarded as morally bad, but they do not further provide a basis for those relations being
wrong or for holding particular agents responsible for addressing them. One important exception
to this general tendency is Norman, The Social Basis of Equality. Norman takes demands of
social equality to have application beyond state borders based on facts about global cooperation.
On this basis, he takes unequal cooperative relations to reflect wrongdoing that implicates the
participants of those relationships. My view is similar to his, though Idevote greater attention
than he does to sketching this sort of account in detail.

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The practical implications of that conclusion may be far from trivial, as


reflection on the real-world inegalitarian practices I described at the outset
makes plain. But without further assumptions, my argument does not necessarily imply that such practices are incompatible with the demands of social
equality. The most my argument shows is that such an incompatibility is not
ruled out on general, conceptual grounds. Whether there is in fact such an
incompatibility depends on empirical details about the relevant practices and
their participants, about which my argument is silent.
Furthermore, Ihave neither defended social equality nor endorsed any particular conception of it. As such, my arguments do not provide a basis for identifying which sorts of relations outside the state violate the demands of social
equality. Ido think social equality offers a plausible explanation of why equality is valuable. And the arguments I have presented here suggest a positive
account of the grounds of social equality. On this account, demands of social
equality arise between individuals who impose on one another terms that can
shape the character of their relations. Individuals so situated have obligations
to justify those terms by securing equal standing for all those subject to them.
Precisely how the grounds of social equality should be construed is a large
question, and the account I have sketched requires further explication and
defense. So, in this respect too, Ido not take my arguments to support definite conclusions that would provide a basis for criticizing specific real-world
inegalitarian relations. And applying the insights of social equality to relationships outside of the state faces distinctive obstacles, in particular pertaining to
the reconciliation of the demands of social equality with other morally relevant considerations. Nevertheless, Ihave put forward a framework that makes
room for addressing such concerns.

Acknowledgments
I am very grateful to Torin Alter for numerous useful discussions and for providing extensive feedback on several drafts of this essay. Ialso benefitted from
helpful conversations with Cory Aragon and Max Cherem.

10

Social Equality and Social Inequality


Jonat h a n Wol f f

10.1Introduction
My task in this essay is to attempt to clarify the theory of social equality. In
section 10.2, Ishow how defenders of social equality distinguish their position
from that of distributive equality. However, although defenders of social equality are clear, at least in outline, about what they oppose, it is less clear how the
ideal of social equality should be articulated, as I explain in section 10.3. In
section 10.4, Iintroduce an idea from Amartya Sen:that the task for political
philosophers is not to articulate an ideal of justice, but rather to identify manifest injustices and, if possible help to derive solutions to remedy such injustices.1 Iattempt to apply this insight to the topic of social inequality, for if Sen is
right then what appeared to be a defect turns out to be a strength. Section 10.5
explores whether such an idea can be defended in philosophical terms, presenting the thesis that social equality is variably or multiply realizable, while section 10.6 identifies what Iclaim to be a manifest injustice, and also a manifest
social inequality, in contemporary society:the case of benefit cheats, many of
whom, on my account, suffer from severe disadvantage. Section 10.7 concludes.

10.2 Distributive and Social Inequality


In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Karl Marx sets out a blistering attack
on what he believed to be an unacceptable socialist program, which had taken
the retrograde and unforgivable step of disregarding many of Marxs own
insights. One aspect of the Gotha Programme that draws incisive criticism

Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice (Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press, 2009).
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from Marx is that the proceeds of labour belong undiminished with equal
right to all members of society.
After some nitpicking about the word undiminished Marx writes,
But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labour in the same time, or can labour for a longer time;
and labour, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or
intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This
equal right is an unequal right for unequal labour... Right, by its very
nature, can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but
unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if
they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard
insofar as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken
from one definite side only... Further, one worker is married, another
not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus,
with an equal performance of labour, and hence an equal share in the
social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another,
one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects,
right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal.2
On the basis of the argument that if we are to make people equal in one respect
we are very likely to make them unequal in another Marx apparently concludes
that, therefore, it is a mistake to try to build a social program on the notion
of equality. Around a hundred years later both Amartya Sen3 and Ronald
Dworkin4 rediscovered Marxs central observation. However, rather than taking it as a reason to abandon the idea of equality, they took it as the start of a
research program to capture the true nature of egalitarianism. In laying down
the challenge of discovering what Cohen was later to call The Currency of
Egalitarian Justice,5 they set the agenda for analytic thinking about equality,
following typical patterns of analytical philosophy in which theorists provide
counterexamples to alternative theories and defend their own against such
examples by introducing distinctions, refinements and complications.
K arl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, in The Marx/Engels Reader, ed. Robert
C.Tucker, second edition (NewYork:Norton, 1978), 525542, at 530531.
3
A martya Sen, Equality of What? in Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Vol. I., ed. S.M.
McMurrin (Salt Lake City:University of Utah Press; and Cambridge, UK:Cambridge University
Press, 1980), 195220.
4
R onald Dworkin, What Is Equality? Part 1: Equality of Welfare, Philosophy & Public
Affairs, 10, no. 3 (1981):228240, and Ronald Dworkin What Is Equality? Part2:Equality of
Resources, Philosophy & Public Affairs, 10, no. 4 (1981):283345.
5
G .A. Cohen, On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice, Ethics 99, no. 4 (1989):906944.
2

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At the heart of this project is a claim formulated by Cohen in the following


terms:I take for granted that there is something which justice requires people
to have equal amounts of.6 Yet there is a certainly a question to be asked about
whether this is the right way to conceive of the idea of an equal society. For in
the writings of earlier theorists of equality, such as R.H. Tawney, there is no
indication that they see themselves as engaged in the project of discovering
that thing of which all must have equal shares. Tawney wanted to understand
what it would be to create a society of equals. Questions of distribution, while
an important part of the answer, may not be the whole.7
Tawney was, of course, greatly interested in poverty, to the point of discussing the deficient diet of working people and their children, 8 and setting
out mortality figures that reveal what is now known as the social gradient in
health.9 Yet he seems equally interested in the social reproduction of inequality, for example producing accounts of the proportion of high court judges
who attended a small number of elite schools such as Eton or Westminster.10
In another example, Tawney writes, regarding the 69 men who were British
Cabinet Ministers between 1885 and 1905: 40 were the sons of nobility,
52 were educated at Oxford or Cambridge, and 46 were educated at public
schools [i.e. elite private schools].11
Tawneys work contains at least two challenges to the distributive approach.
One is the claim that what matters most about inequality is not patterns of
unequal distribution but the way we react to each other: what he calls the
religion of inequality,12 with reinforced patterns of servility and arrogance.13
Tawney worries about privilege and its reproduction over the generations,
drawing particular attention to class division, a topic surprisingly absent from
much contemporary analytic work on equality. The second challenge to note is
his observation that the most important goods are those where to divide is not
to take away.14 From a distributional point of view the theorist is compelled
to think about goods where one persons enjoyment or consumption of that
good rules out another persons:the cake problem. But there are goods that

6Ibid., 906.
7R.H. Tawney, Equality (London:George Allen and Unwin, 1931).
8Ibid., 198.
9Tawney, Equality, 193. For contemporary discussion of the issues see Michael Marmot
and Richard Wilkinson, ed., The Social Determinants of Health:The Solid Facts (Oxford:Oxford
University Press, 2005).
10
Tawney, Equality, 300301.
11
Ibid., 92
12
Ibid., 24.
13
Ibid., 41.
14
Ibid., 291.

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are not like this; where it is possible to increase the stockor indeed diminish
itsimply by the way we act towards each other and the attitudes we take to
one another. Friendship is one such example; a feeling of security and belonging is another. Hence, from this point of view, it seems bizarre that we spend
so much effort working out how to divide scarce goods when, if we get things
right, we can make more for everyone. But how? Ill come back to this shortly.
Tawney was particularly impressed with and influenced by the work of
Matthew Arnold, who, in the late nineteenth century, had written about the
religion of inequality that Tawney in the 1930s, felt still afflicted British society.15 Of course maldistribution of resources was a problem, but both Arnold
and Tawney felt that class divisions in their contemporary societies (albeit
decades apart) were so extreme that one could hardly talk about a single society. The privileged lived apart from the poor, shopped in different streets, sent
their children to different schools, and had no leisure interests in common.
Even as children the ruling classes did not meet and mix with the people that
they would eventually govern. It is this notion of social inequality that they
find so offensive, and contrasts, at least in Arnolds mind, with a rather romanticized view of French society where aristocrat and peasant can converse happily with each other and make the same sort of demands on life.16
Even those who seek social equality cannot ignore material issues. Tawney,
as we have seen, writes extensively about material deprivation. But to a certain
socialist tradition the idea of achieving a desirable form of society by insisting on something like equality of resources is deeply mistaken. For there is an
egalitarian tradition that questions the value of material resources, and especially the culture of consumption. A good life is one of friendship, creation
and appreciation of art and literature, development of creativity, and mutual
support. Of course resources are prerequisites of these activities, but those
Matthew Arnold, Mixed Essays (Toronto:Bastian Books, [1879] 2008).
Arnold, Mixed Essays, 72. Interestingly, George Orwell wrote in the early 1940s that British
life was becoming less class divided:
I maintain that the class distinctions in a country like England are now so unreal that they
cannot last much longer. Fifty years ago or even twenty years ago, a factory worker and a small
professional man, for instance, were very different kinds of creature. Nowadays they are very
much alike, though they may not realize it. They see the same films and listen to the same radio
programmes, and they wear very similar clothes and live in very similar houses. What used to be
called a proletarian what Marx would have meant by a proletarian only exists now in the heavy
industries and on the land. George Orwell, The Proletarian Writer, in Collected Essays Volume
2: My Country Right or Left, 194043 (London: Penguin, 1970), 56. See also the very similar
remarks in The Lion and Unicorn, Collected Essays Volume 2, 97.
Note that Orwell was writing during the second world war, at a time when the only domestic
radio service available was the BBC Home Service, broadcasting just one channel. There was,
therefore, no option but to listen to the same programs.
15
16

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who think that we must equalize resources are missing the point and falling
into a form of fetishism. This view, associated with William Morris17 and John
Ruskin,18 is that material resources are a snare and a distraction; the distributive view, by contrast, seems to be that they are so important that they need to
be shared out equally.

10.3 What Is a Society of Social Equality?


Tawneys ideas, supplemented by Morris and Ruskin, push us in the direction
of thinking that the goal of equality is to create a society of equals, rather than
an equal distribution of goods. And indeed this notion of social equality has
been revived through the work of Elizabeth Anderson19 and Samuel Scheffler,20
as well as earlier, and underappreciated, contributions from David Miller21 and
Richard Norman.22 As we saw, Tawney identifies snobbery, servility and the
reproduction of privilege as evils he wishes to overcome alongside material
deprivation. Yet one struggles to find in Tawney a positive model of the society he desires. He presents no theory of equality, and says little if anything
about the institutional forms a society of equals would take. David Miller and
Richard Norman, who argue that equality should be conceived in social or
relational terms, are also clear what they are againsthierarchy and authoritarian power relationsbut have been less assured in their positive accounts
of what they are for, rather than what they are against. Miller writes:It is possible to elucidate the ideal of social equality in various ways, but difficult to
give it a sharp definition... [I]t is a matter of how people regard one another,
and how they conduct their social relations.23
In a similar vein, Elizabeth Anderson suggests that the negative aim of
egalitarianism is to end oppression.24 Its positive aim, she says, it to create a community in which people stand in relations of equality to others.25
Everyone sympathetic to social equality will agree. But how do we explicate
the ideal further and what would it mean in practice? Anderson does helpfully
17
W illiam Morris, How We Live and How We Might Live, in Political Writings of William
Morris, ed. A.L. Morton (London:Lawrence and Wishart, [1884] 1973), 134158.
18
John Ruskin, Unto This Last and Other Writings (London:Penguin, [1860] 1985).
19
Elizabeth Anderson, What Is the Point of Equality? Ethics 109, no. 2 (1999):287337.
20
Samuel Scheffler, What Is Egalitarianism? Philosophy & Public Affairs 31, no. 1
(2003):539.
21
David Miller, Equality and Justice, Ratio 10, no. 3 (1997):222237.
22
R ichard Norman, The Social Basis of Equality, Ratio 10, no. 3 (1997):238252.
23
M iller, Equality and Justice, 233.
24
I bid., What Is the Point of Equality? 288.
25
I bid., What Is the Point of Equality? 289.

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discuss these issues at length, setting out a view she calls democratic equality
offering equality in the space of capabilities.26 However, Anderson is clear
that, in order not to be overly intrusive, governments have reason to concern
themselves only with a limited range of capabilities that fall into two groups.
First, those capabilities that enable people to escape oppressive relations; and
second, those that are necessary to allow people to function as equal citizens,
as exclusion from the political life of a community reduces people to the status
of second-class citizens.27 Andersons positive account, then, is suffused with
conditions that are to be avoidedoppression, second-class statusrather
than an independent characterization of the content of equal social relations. 28
And indeed my own attempt to come to a view of social equality is clearer in its
opposition to clustering of disadvantage than it is in its positive view, which
is little more than the negation of the negation. 29
The abiding problem, therefore, for social egalitarians has been to provide
an account of what egalitarian social relations are. Distributive egalitarians
have been able to say what is to be distributed and to what patternequality
of resources, or equal opportunity for welfare, for exampleand to develop
their theories in detail, analyzing key concepts, and providing examples of
what their theories prescribe in practical dilemmas. Social equality has not
provided an equivalent. 30 And here the great theorists of social equality are
little help. Tawney wears his Christian Socialism fairly lightly, yet the tendency of his view would see a society of equals as one as extending Christian
notions of universal love to all. This is a paradigm of a good where to divide is
not to take away. Yet it is a demanding goal with limited appeal or relevance
in large-scale secular society. Morris and Ruskin, so it seems, would like to
return to something like feudal production with guilds of art workers, which
again hardly seems appropriate for large-scale, multicultural, industrial, or
indeed postindustrial society. Notions of civic friendship could be helpful to
I bid., What Is the Point of Equality? 316.
Ibid., 317.
28
To be fair to Anderson, the notion of a community in which people can justify their actions
to each other is also central to her picture. My point is not that her vision is entirely one of avoiding negatives but only that it is very difficult to say very much more about the positive content of
social equality and it is natural for social egalitarians to fall into talk of what they wish to avoid.
29
Jonathan Wolff and Avner de-Shalit, Disadvantage (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2007).
30
For similar observations, see Carina Fourie, What Is Social Equality? An Analysis of Status
Equality as a Strongly Egalitarian Ideal, Res Publica 18, no. 2 (2012):107126. Another theorist who has characterized equality in largely negative terms is T.M. Scanlon, The Diversity of
Objections to Equality, in The Difficulty of Tolerance (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press,
2003). For discussion of Scanlons views, see my Scanlon on Social and Material Inequality,
Journal of Moral Philosophy 10, no. 4 (2013) 406425.
26
27

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elucidate the idea of egalitarian social relations, but still seem fairly weak as an
ideal. Perhaps the idea of solidarity could be useful for further development,
yet on its own offers little illumination. 31

10.4 The Role of the Theorist of Justice


For those who defend social equality, the lack of a clear positive model of a society of equals may appear to be a significant problem, in urgent need of remedy.
And yet there is another perspective we could take. Consider Amartya Sens
recent book, The Idea of Justice.32 One central message of Sens book is that it is
a mistake to think that the task of political philosophy is to formulate precise
principles of justice as a template for criticizing the present state of affairs and as
a model for how it ought to be refashioned. Although it is traditional for political
philosophers to write as if they were legislators for the kingdom of the imagination, Sen argues, by contrast, that the task for political philosophers is to identify
manifest injustice and to work out how those injustices can be overcome. 33
Sens view is that it is a wrong-headed to set out an ideal or positive model
of a just society. What we might think of a weaker, in the sense of more concessive, version of Sens theory, is that it is not so much mistaken as unneces
sary or perhaps, inappropriate, to formulate a clear theory of justice in order to
identify a situation of manifest injustice. The concessive view agrees with Sen
that social reform should not consist in the attempt to realize an independently
formulated ideal of justice. However, it can afford to be neutral on whether
there are sound reasons for formulating ideals. Sen appears to think not, but a
contrary view is that the formulation of ideals is an important part of political
and intellectual culture, and the evaluation of current arrangements against
such ideals can serve a number of important functions, including identifying
manifest injustice. However, both the strong and concessive position reject the
converse argument:that in order to identify manifest injustice, it is necessary
to have formulated a positive idea of justice. Rather they claim that manifest
injustice can be identified without reference to a positive theory of justice
(what Ishall call, for short, the manifest injustice thesis). It is this thesis that
will be the central focus of the remainder of this essay.
Note that the manifest injustice thesis is not the rejection of theoretical reason. The rejected position is one that uses theory as a type of template for a
For a discussion of the fall in the idea of solidarity and its need for revival, see my Political
Philosophy and the Real World of the Welfare State (forthcoming).
32
Sen, The Idea of Justice.
33
Ibid., 21.
31

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just society:something rejected as unnecessary or inappropriate (concessive)


or wrong-headed (strong). This is a very particular rejection of theory and not
necessarily a rejection of all theoretical reasoning. It may be very important
to use aspects of political theoryfor example when thinking about human
motivationbut formulating an ideal theory of justice and applying it to the
process of social reform is ruled out. The general point is illustrated very well
by Iris MarionYoung:
Rejecting a theory of justice does not entail eschewing rational discourse about justice. Some modes of reflection, analysis and argument aim not at building a systematic theory, but at clarifying the
meaning of concepts and issues, describing and explaining social relations, and articulating and defending ideals and principles. Reflective
discourse about justice makes arguments, but these are not intended
as definitive demonstrations. They are addressed to others and await
their response, in a situated political dialogue. 34
Methodologically, the advantage for social egalitarians of Sens observation is
clear. What appeared to be a defectthe lack of a clear positive account of
social equalityturns out to be no such thing. Social egalitarians can have a
clear sense of what they are againsthierarchy, snobbery, servility, oppressionand this is all that is needed. 35 Imust enter one qualification, though.
Even if Sen is right about justice in general, it may not be that the same lessons
apply to equality. We will have to return to that issue.

10.5 Philosophical Justification of the Manifest


Injustice Thesis
However, it is one thing to take comfort and cover in Sens approach and the
inspiration of earlier theorists; it is another question as to whether Sen is correct. Indeed the manifest injustice thesis may simply seem baffling. How is it
even possible to identify an injustice unless you first have in your head an ideal
of justice? I will now turn to this methodological question, and then to the
34
Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton, NJ:Princeton University
Press, 1990), 5.
35
Iowe to the editors of this volume the observation that in practice social egalitarians, at
least in recent decades, have not been as forthcoming about the details of the defects as they
might have been. However, there seems no reason in principle why these accounts should not be
supplied.

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more substantive question:is it true that contemporary societies are afflicted


by manifest injustice, or rather manifest social inequality? For if they are not,
then Sens approach seems to leave us nowhere, or perhaps endorsing the status quo. But first to the methodological questions.
The most obvious criticism of the manifest injustice thesis is to allege that it
is incoherent. On this view, criticizing something as unjust is only possible by
appealing to some sort of standard of justice, whether explicitly or implicitly.
Injustice is failure to measure up to a standard, and any judgment of injustice
relies on an account of justice. 36 If this criticism is established then the manifest injustice thesis is an evasion, not a resolution.
In the abstract this may seem a strong objection. But let us consider some
of Sens own examples of manifest injustices: famines and missing women.
Regarding famines, Sen argued that famines in the modern world have not
principally been caused by lack of food but rather lack of entitlement to food.
In many famines food has been exported from the famine-affected region.
And in a well-functioning democracy with a free press famines do not happen,
because it is not actually difficult to feed a population if there is the will to do
it. As allowing the people to starve is not a way of getting reelected, the combination of publicity and democracy will ensure that there is protection against
famine, at least in normal circumstances. 37 Consequently famines are political
failures, not highly unfortunate, but ultimately random events.
Regarding missing women, Sen reports that there are far fewer women alive
in the worldmany millions fewerthan biology alone would predict, suggesting that neglect has led to poorer survival rates for young girls than for
their brothers. 38
Both of these facts about the world are likely to give rise to a widespread belief
that certain political and social practices are profoundly unjust and that changes
are called for. Note, though, that by referring to these practices as manifest
injustices it is not supposed that they are already widely acknowledged to be
unjust, for the phenomena are barely known or reflected on. The point, rather, is

36
For identification of the thesis of the priority of justice over injustice as a possible fallacy see
Judith Shklar, The Faces of Injustice (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1990), 15. Her point is
that philosophers have tended to ignore injustice, perhaps wrongly thinking that once we know
what justice is, we know all we need to know. Shklar asks, however, whether we should not think
of experiences of injustice as independent phenomena in their own right (p.16). Philosophy,
says Shklar, ignores injustice while history and literature deal with little else. See also Stuart
Hampshire, Justice as Conflict (London:Duckworth, 1999).
37
Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1981).
38
A martya Sen, More than 100 Million Women are Missing, New York Review of Books,
37, December 20, 1990. Note that the demographics were distorted well before the widespread
adoption of ultrasound, which has made selective abortion an option.

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that these previously hidden or masked situations, when exposed and brought to
full attention, will immediately elicit a judgment of clear injustice.
Consider how one makes such judgments. It does not seem to be the case
that one consciously recalls a theory of justice as a template and then considers
the examples against the template. Rather it just seems obvious that something
has gone seriously wrong in a world in which such things take place, and steps
should be taken, if only that were possible, to remedy the situation. Now, the
phenomenology of making the judgment, it has to be conceded, is not a decisive
argument that no theory of justice is being utilized in making the judgment. It
may well be that ones account of justice is so well ingrained that it can be applied
without recalling it in thought, especially in easy cases. Atheory of unconscious
recall could be used. By analogy, think of the intuitive grasp of grammar people
typically have over their mother tongue. An ability to identify and correct errors
typically far outstrips the ability to articulate the correct grammatical rule, but
few would doubt that the rule is being used at some subconscious or preconscious level. Or, perhaps more plausibly, rather than using a theory of unconscious recall in the case of justice, it may just be we realize that we do not need to
appeal to any particular theory of justice as pretty much any reasonable theory
would condemn the situation. In either case there is priority to the notion of justice over the idea of injustice, although it does not have to be expressed. Yet it
would be dogmatic to insist that there must be a positive theory, or numerous
theories, in play without considering further possibilities, and this is what Iwant
to do next, in fact by drawing on other areas of philosophy.
Why would we want to insist that in order to make a judgment of injustice it
is necessary to have a theory of justice, however implicit or inchoate? It appears
that such insistence rests on two assumptions:first, that we can make a clear distinction between positive and negative concepts and, second, that the positive has logical, conceptual, or epistemological priority over the negative. In fact
it is the epistemological thesis that is most clearly under consideration here:that
one can only know the negative by knowing the positive, although the epistemological thesis itself is likely to be based on a claim of conceptual or logical priority,
which is the more fundamental issue. But is it true that there is a clear distinction
between negative and positive concepts, and that the positive has epistemological
(or conceptual) priority? Both premises, in fact, can be challenged.
First, is there a genuine distinction between positive and negative concepts?39 Where two terms are exclusive, there may be pragmatic reasons why
it is easier to treat one of the two terms as dominant in the relation, but, at
least at the level of language, it could equally be an accident of usage. We
define injustice as not justice, but could we have not used different words
39

For related discussion see A.J. Ayer, Negation, Journal of Philosophy 49, no. 26 (1952):797815.

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that would have had the effect that justice meant not injustice?40 In reply,
however, it will be said that while it is not obvious that justice must have
logical priority over injustice, surely equality has logical priority over
inequality? But this, in turn, implies that sameness has logical priority
over difference, which could be contested. For one thing, it could plausibly be said that we do not recognize sameness until we are confronted with
difference. For another, we could replace the term socially unequal with
the term divided and socially equal with undivided. Does divided
then become the dominant term in the relationship, expressing the positive
concept?
Presumably, however, surface grammar does not settle anything, and
Iwill not press this objection further. Instead, for the purposes of the argument, Iwill accept that there is a distinction between positive and negative
terms. However, Ido want to contest the claim that the positive always has
epistemological and conceptual priority over the negative. And to obtain
support for my position, I want to turn to a somewhat unlikely place: J.L.
Austins Sense and Sensibilia.41 In this work of painstaking ordinary language
philosophy, Austin, in Chapter VII, turns, grandly, to a discussion of the
nature of reality, which, predictably, turns into an investigation of the word
real. Taking as an example real colour Austin suggests that a straightforward definition could be the colour that [an object] looks to a normal
observer in conditions of normal or standard illumination.42 Yet he immediately points out that when someone remarks that isnt the real colour of her
hair, the question is not about how it appears, but rather whether it is dyed.43
In this case, real contrasts not with a generic unreal but with a very specific way of not being real. Out hunting one hunter might ask another is that
a real duck? not knowing where the decoys had been set.44 Back at high table
in the 1950s one fellow might ask another is this real cream?,45 resigned to
the dismal fact that once again the college has only been able to obtain the
artificial variety. But artificial cream, decoy ducks and dyed hair are still real
objects. And illusions, hallucinations, and afterimages are only each unreal
in a very specific sense, different to each other.
40
Th is is, of course, an oversimplification. not justice can also mean not an appropriate
subject for discourse about justice:a point that turns out to be important in the debate about
Marxs views of capitalism, communism and injustice. See Steven Lukes, Marxism, Morality
and Justice, in Marx and Marxisms, ed. G.H.R. Parkinson (Cambridge:Cambridge University
Press, 1982).
41
J.L. Austin, Sense and Sensibilia (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1962).
42
Ibid., 65.
43
Ibid., 65.
44
Ibid., 67, 69.
45
Ibid., 64.

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Austin, rather confusingly, calls real a trouser word as it is the negative


that wears the trousers in each case.46 The point is perhaps better put by saying
that the meaning of real is context dependent, and it is always the negative
the unrealthat we use to specify the context. So whether or not there is a genuine distinction between positive and negative terms, it is not true that the
positive always has epistemological and conceptual priority over the negative.
To take stock, Iam considering the challenge that it is impossible to identify
a situation as being unjust, or socially unequal, without having, at least implicitly, a theory of justice or equality in mind. So far Ihave tried to loosen the grip
of this objection by suggesting it is most likely to rest on two assumptions that
can be questioned:that there is a clear distinction between positive and negative terms, and that the positive always has epistemological and conceptual
priority over the negative. While for the sake of the argument accepting the former, we have shown the latter to be false. Nevertheless, this is not yet enough to
establish the epistemological priority of inequality over equality, or, indeed, the
redundancy of a theory of social equality for the purposes of social criticism,
which is the main question Iam pursuing here. However, having loosened the
grip of the objection we can now turn to an open discussion of how the concepts
social equality and social inequality relate to each other.
So far Ihave presented the idea that social inequality is constituted by certain
forms of asymmetric social relations. What then is social equality? Isuggest it is
primarily the absence of social inequality (i.e., the absence of asymmetric social
relations), although this is not yet enough to make a society an appealing one
for egalitarians:it would also need to achieve a level of material well-being for
all and to avoid antagonism and alienation, whether asymmetric or symmetric.
These conditions together could be called a theory of social equality although it
falls short of anything worthy of the name of a model or ideal.
At this point it may fairly be asked why Iwish to insist on the priority of social
inequality when a positive ideal of social equality would be much more intellectually satisfying and politically inspiring, and the position Iam advocating
may seem inelegant or defeatist. My defense is twofold. First, Ifind aspects of
my own views very well expressed in a passage from Stuart Hampshire:
I came to recognize that my socialist sympathies, and loyalty to the
political Left, were far from unreasonable, and not at all difficult to
defend, in proportion as they were traceable to emotions engendered
by the persisting evils of human life: and poverty in all its modern
forms is certainly one of these. My political opinions and loyalties,
when challenged, did not any longer include or entail any generalizable
Ibid., 72.

46

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account of a future ideal society or of essential human virtues. Rather,


they pointed to the possible elimination of particular evils found in
particular societies at particular times, and not to universalisable
principles of social justice.47
The second reason is that when we look at forms of social organization that
we might describe as egalitarian, it is not at all clear that they have much in
common rather than avoiding certain forms of divisions. Compare the Quaker
religion, the Bloomsbury group, the Kibbutz and Cohens camping trip.48 All
of them strive toward social equality, and all achieve it to a greater or lesser
degree. Yet they are very different to each other, and will appeal to different
people. Although they are all examples of social equality it is hard to identify
what they have in common beyond the avoidance of certain types of asymmetric social relations. And it would also be hard to argue that one of these
provides the sole template for a society of equals.
These different ideas of social equality compete for social space in that they
all have features that would be hard to reconcile with features of other models,
and they compete for loyalty in that, as noted, they will be found differentially
attractive to different people. However, it is far less clear that they compete for
philosophical space. In contrast to the search for the currency of egalitarian
justice, it is possible to deny that there is a parallel search for the currency of
social equality. Once social inequality is avoided a range of different and incompatible models can each be seen as exemplifying social equality. Any philosophical argument for one over another needs to be made on grounds other than those
of social equality, if indeed, any such argument is to be made at all.

10.6 Manifest Social Inequality and


Severe Disadvantage
Having set out the idea of the priority of social inequality, our next question is
whether there are, in fact, manifest social inequalities in contemporary society
that show that we do not live in a society of equals. There are, Iam sure, very
many examples of social exclusion, oppression, discrimination and exploitation
that we could document in detail.49 For the remainder of this essay, Iwould like
Hampshire, Justice as Conflict, 78.
G.A. Cohen, Why Not Socialism? (Princeton, NJ:Princeton University Press, 2009).
49
For a detailed account of several such charges, see Daniel Dorling, Injustice: Why Social
Inequality Persists (Bristol: Policy Press, 2011); and Brian Barry, Why Social Justice Matters
(Cambridge:Polity Press, 2005).
47

48

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to explore what Ibelieve is a manifest hidden injustice in the United Kingdom. It


may not be on the scale of Sens missing women, or famine victims, but nevertheless it affects perhaps hundreds of thousands of people in the United Kingdom.
These are people who are known as benefit cheats. Now Ihave no doubt that
there are some people engaged in benefit fraud in a systematic and clearly criminal fashion. But Iam more interested in people who are unable to find a job
with decent pay and conditions, and so, reluctantly, claim state benefits. Yet
these benefits are sufficient only for a basic level of existence. If you have a family, can you afford to buy birthday presents? Can you afford a night out now and
again? Can you afford the fare to visit friends and family? Areport for the Joseph
Rowntree Foundation found that, according to their survey, one of the greatest
necessities of life was being able to visit friends and family in hospital (behind
beds and bedding for everyone, heating to warm living areas of the home and
damp-free home, but above medicines prescribed by a doctor and two meals
a day).50 Thisalongside the other things mentionedcan be very difficult for
people on benefits given the cost of even public transport.
Simply in order to provide themselves with the necessities of life many people on benefits engage in minor acts of criminality. Some work a few hours a
week for cash, often in domestic cleaning. Some purchase goods they strongly
suspect to be stolen. Some drive without tax or insurance. These are victimless
crimes at least at the first remove, in that no identified individual is harmed.
And they are undertaken not out of a criminal mentality or greed, but simply
to be able to afford the things that other people take for granted. But the fact
that people act outside the law makes them vulnerable to arrest, prosecution,
fines, or even a prison sentence. And, of course, this is a group that cannot
complain about their situation without thereby admitting to criminal actions
that could see them jailed, and thus the group is silenced. On my account these
people suffer from a form of severe disadvantage. They start from a situation of
significant disadvantage, and the only eligible strategies they have for improving their situation puts them at significant risk of making themselves much
worse off. In this case, the benefit cheat risks a court appearance, prison or
fines, and public disgrace. In other cases borrowing at very high rates of interest or taking very dangerous or health-damaging job are also highly risky exit
strategies,51 leaving a strong possibility of returning people to a position that
is worse than their already disadvantaged starting place.
50
David Gordon et al., Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain (York: Joseph Rowntree
Foundation, 2000), 15.
51

For brief elaboration, see Jonathan Wolff and Avner de-Shalit, On Fertile
Functionings:AResponse to Martha Nussbaum, Journal of Human Development and Capabilities
14, no. 1 (2013):161165.

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223

A similar point has been made in the development literature. One of the
problems for people in poverty is that the options they may have even to sustain a very low level of well-being have narrow margins of error and irreversible
consequences. 52 It is like trying to overcome poverty by walking a tightrope
over a ravine. For example, one of the more surprising statistics in world
health is that one of the most common causes of death for young men in the
developing world is drowning (this does not include drowning in floods). 53
Presumably a significant proportion of these deaths are fishing accidents of
various kinds:risky paths with low margins of error and the most irreversible
of consequences. Conversely, part of what it is to be comfortable is for ones
risk taking to be underwritten by a safety net. The children of the affluent middle classes can try their hands as poets, film makers, minor entrepreneurs and
so on, but if it all goes wrong little is lost except face. To be comfortable is to be
able to bounce back from lifes reversals. To be severely disadvantaged is to be
in the opposite situation:one that is very fragile.
The case of benefit cheats, I would contend is a situation of manifest
injustice. As noted it is not as striking as Sens examples of famines or missing
women, but then examples of injustice in the developed world are likely to be
less striking than those on a global scale. Nevertheless, Ithink it is hard for
anyone to consider the case just made and conclude it is perfectly reasonable
that those who cannot find a job must choose between crushing and humiliating poverty or breaking the law. I can imagine someone trying to argue
that Ihave the proportions wrong, and most benefit cheats are not as Ihave
described. Or someone arguing that any attempt to reform the situation will
make things worse in some way. But Ifind it hard to think of people who could
accept the description and think there is not even reason to consider reform of
the welfare state.
Notice, as with Sens examples, one does not come to the conclusion that
this is a situation of injustice by applying a template of justice. Rather the judgment is fairly instinctive. However, Iam offering the case not only as an example of manifest injustice but of one of manifest social inequality. Is that also
so apparent? Again Ifeel there is little difficulty. Agroup of people face a very
difficult situation, which is broadly ignored, or even made worse, by the ruling powers. In a generally affluent society a considerable group of people have
been unable to find work, or at least have not found work that offers decent
pay and conditions. Luckily they do not have to starve or beg, for there is a
52
M . Bertrand, S. Mullainathan, and E. Shafir, A Behavioral-Economics View of Poverty,
American Economic Review, 94, no. 2 (2004):419v423.
53
World Health Organization, Drowning, Fact Sheet no.237 (2012). http://www.who.int/
mediacentre/factsheets/fs347/en/.

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social safety net. The safety net, though, provides a bare minimum, and anyone
who has a normal set of interests, desires and social commitments will find it
very difficult to do more than pay for the bare necessities of providing basic
food, housing and clothing. Anything morean occasional night out, gifts for
friends and family members, provision for emergenciesis very difficult or
perhaps even ruled out completely, at least by legal means.
It is not surprising, therefore, that anyone in this positionwhoever they
are and whatever background they come fromwill consider resorting to illegal means, such as working for cash in cleaning jobs or on a market stall, buying goods suspected to be stolen, shoplifting from a supermarket, fiddling an
electricity meter, or driving without insurance. Although no one is literally
forced to do any of these things, the alternative, if no work can be found, is to
live a barely human existence. It is reasonable, therefore, to talk of people who
are socially excluded, albeit unwittingly. No deliberate effort is made to shun
people who have to try to live on welfare benefits; they are not like an ethnic
group who suffer from discrimination. Yet the way society is structured means
they are unable to conform to its norms of behavior. If they want to meet one
norm of normal life they need more money and to get that they need to break
another norm of law-abiding behavior.
I should add the further point, however, that Iam not here arguing that we
should allow things to continue as they are, but show mercy when benefit cheats
are caught. Rather we need to rethink laws and structures. Perhaps we can allow
those claiming benefits to earn a certain level of income before they lose any
benefits at all. (This is known as a disregard and in current welfare systems
are typically trivial. My argument would be for a substantial disregard, which
would decriminalize a large number of people.) Or perhaps other creative
schemes could be devised. My point is that we live in a society of significant
social inequality for as long as we tolerate the current situation. And, consistent
with the general picture provided in this essay, Iwould be happy to concede that
there are many different ways in which the problem could be solved.

10.7Conclusion
My main concern in this essay has been to try to understand what it is to live
in a society of social equality. It has seemed an embarrassment to theorists
of social equality that it has proven much easier to say what we are against
than what we are for. We oppose snobbery, servility, discrimination, hierarchy,
oppression, exploitation, and exclusion. It has been hard to come up with a convincing account of what, positively, we want. My argument, however, is that
this is just how it should be:a society of social equality avoids social inequality,

S o c i a l E q u a l i t y a n d S o c i a l I n e q u a l i t y

225

and there are many different ways of doing that. The project of seeking a positive model of social equality can certainly be pursued, and attractive visions
may be achievable. Isuggest, however, that it is unlikely that any detailed positive account will command wide assent among those who favor social equality.

Acknowledgments
This essay has developed over a number of years in response to many comments received at presentations of earlier drafts at Harvard, Bristol, Leiden,
Paris, Durham, Oxford, Brighton, Istanbul, Dublin, UCL, Cambridge and
elsewhere. Im very grateful to the many people who may recognize responses
to their criticisms, ideas, and suggestions in this resulting version. Im particularly grateful to Adina Preda for discussions leading to the final version and for
the editors of this volume for their very helpful comments.

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IN DEX

accumulative harm, 13738, 142, 144


affective relationships, 74, 76, 77, 79
affiliation, 7677
African Americans, 93, 191. See also race/ethnicity
agency, 56, 108, 110, 111, 124, 125
Allen, Amy, 84
Anderson, Elizabeth, 45, 46, 47, 50, 99, 138n16,
153n20, 18889, 190, 191n17, 192, 21314
appraisal respect, 69, 70, 72, 90, 139.
See also esteem
arbitrariness, 2, 11, 138, 142, 154, 159, 181, 182
moral equality and, 170, 171
republicanism on, 50, 55, 58, 63, 81
in the workplace, 11415, 116, 117
Aristotle, 168, 169
Arneson, Richard, 45
Arnold, Matthew, 212
asymmetrical relationships, 3, 53, 220, 221
atomism, 5152, 54
Austin, J.L., 21920
Australia, 186
autonomy .See also control
moral equality and, 174
republicanism on, 5455, 56, 57, 58, 60, 64

context dependency of, 75


democracy and, 82
liberal egalitarianism on, 7677, 7980
limits to, 7475
radical egalitarianism on, 7780
cashier (example), 13233, 138
Castel, Robert, 45, 61, 6263
chavs/chavettes, 104
choosing the second-best (strategy), 25
Christian Socialism, 214
citizenship, 45, 205, 206, 207
expansion of equal membership in, 14244,
145, 150
interconnectedness and, 194, 195, 19899
reasons for entitlements under, 19092
republicanism on, 51
civic friendship, 129, 21415. See also community;
fraternity
inequalities of esteem and, 12, 95, 96, 97, 106
civil society, 50, 102, 143
Cohen, G.A., 21, 41, 49, 82, 131, 14950, 162,
21011, 221
community, 14950, 162, 163
contempt, 88, 98, 99, 142
contestation, 11516
contestatory democracy, 57
control, 54, 57, 81, 82, 112.
See also autonomy
in the workplace, 115, 11617
cooperation, 8185
cosmopolitanism, 5, 15
Critique of the Gotha Programme (Marx), 20910
cultural imperialism, 154
currency of equality, 21, 22, 41, 43, 46, 51, 21011,
221

Baker, John, 1112, 66n2


balanced reciprocity, 78
Bangladesh, 186, 193
basic respect, 69, 70, 71, 73
beauty contests, 89, 100, 105
benefit cheats, 16, 209, 22224
Blake, Michael, 195
BorduriaSyldavia relations (fictional case),
195205, 207
Bourdieu, Pierre, 45, 59
Breen, Keith, 115
brute luck, 8, 46, 47

Darwall, Stephen, 90n7, 139


Davidson, Donald, 133
decision-making, 1011, 13, 11317. See also
egalitarian deliberative constraint

Canada, 186
care, 11, 66, 7380, 85
237

2 38 I n d e x

democracy, 217
contestatory, 57
justice-based relational egalitarianism on, 154
radical egalitarianism on, 8283, 84, 85
in the workplace, 11617
Democracy in America (Tocqueville), 157
democratic equality, 214
dependency, 54. See also interdependence
difference principle, 49, 66, 76, 81, 131
Dillon, Robin S., 69
disabled citizens, 189
disadvantage
clustering of, 214
distributive views of, 46
as injustice, 131, 133, 134, 138, 142
severe, 22124
disaffiliation, 61, 6263
discourse-friendly relationships, 54
discrimination, 17071, 172, 173
discursive control, 54
disregards (welfare system), 224
distributive equality/justice, 1, 2, 511, 13, 214.
See also luck egalitarianism; numerical
equality; proportional equality
care and, 74, 7778
criticisms of, 22
distributive patterns and, 8
in egalitarian personal relationships, 3135
external questions about, 3132, 38
inequalities of esteem and, 100
internal questions about, 31, 3233, 38
justice-based relational egalitarianism and, 152
love and, 74, 79
pluralist social egalitarianism and, 149, 150, 151
power and, 80
presumption of equality on, 15, 167, 168,
17485
respect and recognition and, 68
richpoor relationships and, 117
social (relational) equality compared with,
510, 2124, 35, 4144, 4550, 65, 20913
in a society of equals, 3741
solidarity and, 74
territorial rights and, 203
divided world, 7
dominant agent, 5556
dominated agent, 5556, 59
domination, 81, 110, 111, 112, 173. See also
non-domination
gender(ed) relationships and, 124
justice-based relational egalitarianism on,
154, 155, 159, 161, 165
vulnerability and, 5556, 5864
in the workplace, 11417
drowning deaths, 223
Dworkin, Ronald, 45, 210
educational system
racial segregation in, 190, 19698, 199, 201

School Choice example, 132, 134, 137, 138


wealth inequalities and, 11920
egalitarian deliberative constraint,
11, 2531, 3337
complications of, 2630
diachronical view of, 26, 33
distribution role in, 3335, 3840
externalizing the conflict in, 27, 37
in a society of equals, 3537, 3840
strategies for achieving, 2526
unequal satisfaction in, 28, 2930
egalitarian personal relationships, 2435.
See also egalitarian deliberative constraint
emotions, 75, 7677
empowerment, 81
epistemic injustice, 12324
equalisanda, 1, 41
equality of condition, 65, 66, 67. See also radical
egalitarianism
equality of what debate, 147, 152
esteem, 69, 156, 157. See also appraisal respect;
inequalities of esteem
competition for, 99101
expressions of, 9798
genuine opportunities to achieve, 1023
grounds for according, 12, 9899
respect distinguished from, 87, 9095, 103
ethnic minorities. See race/ethnicity
European Union, 186
exploitation, 154
exposure, 54
expressive accumulative harm, 137, 138
expressive theories, 4849, 51
extrinsic value, 140
fairness, 6, 47n8, 4849, 149
famines, 217, 222
feminism, 59, 73, 76
Finland, 119
foreigners, 186208. See also citizenship; state
formal equality, 167, 16869, 175, 178
Fourie, Carina, 12, 108, 152n19
France, 50, 51, 5960, 212
Fraser, Nancy, 48, 7778
fraternity, 76, 95, 96. See also civic friendship;
community
freedom
of association, 13435
as non-domination, 54, 64, 116
Freeman, Samuel, 206
French National Assembly, 59
fundamental vulnerability, 5356, 64
Garrau, Marie, 11
gays and lesbians. See same-sex relationships
gender(ed) relationships, 12, 109, 112, 12324.
See also women
generalized reciprocity, 78
Germany, 118

I n d e x
Gheaus, Anca, 79
Goffman, Erving, 122n39
good of equal membership, 130, 143, 144, 150, 162
Gosepath, Stefan, 15
Hampshire, Stuart, 22021
Haugaard, Mark, 82n34
Heaney, Seamus, 83n37
Honneth, Axel, 48, 54, 91
Hsieh, Nien-h, 114, 115
Idea of Justice, The (Sen), 215
immigrants, 186, 197, 198, 204.
See also foreigners
impersonal value of social equality, 163, 164
India, 186
inequalities of esteem, 12, 87106. See also esteem
bounds of, 1045
broad-brush responses to, 87, 8990
compounded, 1034
factors influencing the assessment of, 96105
the harms of, 9596
institutionally backed, 12, 1012
pervasiveness of, 99101
the problem of, 8890
radical egalitarianism on, 6973
richpoor relationships and, 13, 118, 12023
inferiority, feelings of
in foreigners, 194, 197, 201
inequalities of esteem and, 12, 87, 92, 94,
9596, 97, 100, 101, 106
racial segregation and, 190
institutions. See also state
distributive equality/justice and, 21
entitlements shaped by, 191
expressive nature of, 4849
inequalities of esteem and, 12, 1012
justice-based relational egalitarianism on, 153
wealth inequalities and, 118, 119, 120
instrumental value, 140, 150, 152, 162
interconnectedness, 15, 194, 195, 19899, 201
interdependence, 11, 45, 5258
intrinsic value, 140, 141, 152, 162
intuition
on justice, 13236
on presumption of equality, 178
Jamaica, 186
joint satisfaction (strategy), 2526
Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 222
justice, 3, 5, 1315
distributive (see distributive equality/justice)
luck egalitarianism and, 46
manifest injustice thesis on (see manifest
injustice thesis)
moral equality and, 173
presumption of equality and, 18185
principles of equality and, 168, 169
respect not intrinsic to, 14142

239

the role of the theorist, 21516


social equality distinguished from, 67
(see also pluralist social egalitarianism)
social equality not intrinsic to, 14, 12939, 145
social inequality and unjust effects, 13638
justice-as-fairness, 6, 47n8
justice-based relational egalitarianism, 1415,
146, 147, 148, 15254, 16366
central argument of, 152
challenges to, 15556
on institutional set-up of society, 153
social status norms and, 158, 15962, 16365
Kant, Immanuel, 139
Kittay, Eva Feder, 74
Krause, Sharon, 124
Laborde, Ccile, 11
laissez-faire cross-society system, 206, 207
laissez-faire market system, 38, 39
legal recognition, 9091
legitimacy, 115, 117, 160
liberal egalitarianism, 12, 54, 65, 66, 67, 85, 86.
See also justice-based relational
egalitarianism
on distributive equality/justice, 45
on love, care, and solidarity, 7677, 7980
political, 50
on power, 81
on respect and recognition, 69, 76
on social relations structure, 4950
libertarianism, 206
Local Shop (example), 132, 137, 138
love, 11, 66, 7380, 85
context dependency of, 75
democracy and, 82
liberal egalitarianism on, 7677, 7980
limits to, 7475
radical egalitarianism on, 7780
Lovett, Frank, 59
luck egalitarianism
brute luck in, 8, 46, 47
community as counterbalance to, 14950
criticisms of, 4243, 47, 4849
defense of, 4243
option luck in, 8, 46, 47
radical egalitarianism on, 72
social (relational) equality compared with, 8,
4243, 4650, 52
Lukes, Steven, 81
Malaysia, 186
managerworker relationships.
See under workplace relationships
manifest injustice thesis, 209, 21521, 223
concessive and strong positions on, 215, 216
philosophical justification of, 21621
manifest social inequality, 209, 217, 22124
mansplaining, 123n43

2 4 0 I n d e x

marginalization, 11, 63, 154, 155, 161


marriage
egalitarian, 24
same-sex, 36, 70, 76
Marx, Karl, 59, 20910
Masculine Domination (Bourdieu), 59
Mason, Andrew, 14, 150, 162
McBride, Cillian, 70
Mexico, 186
migrant workers, 186. See also foreigners
Miller, David, 67, 107, 108, 14849, 213
missing women, 217, 222
Moore, G.E., 140n22
moral equality, 5, 167, 168, 17075
presumption of equality and, 15, 181
principles of, 17074
moral indifference, 180, 183
morality
inequalities of esteem and, 91, 92, 93, 94, 96,
97, 99, 104, 105, 106
justice and, 130, 133, 145, 169
respect and, 13839, 141, 142
of social vs. distributive equality, 7
of territorial rights, 2023
treatment of non-citizens and, 14344
wealth distribution and, 117
Morris, William, 213, 214
Moving House (example), 132, 137, 138
Nath, Rekha, 15
negative appraisal, 91, 92, 93, 94, 9798, 99, 102,
104
nightwatchman state, 206
nobility, orders of, 3, 69, 88, 89, 9293
non-domination, 6, 11, 45, 5064.
See also domination
social (relational) equality accommodated by,
5051
from vulnerability to, 5657
nonexpressive accumulative harm, 13738
noninstrumental value, 140, 143
nonintrinsic egalitarianism, 15051
nonmaterial goods, equal access to, 48
Norman, Richard, 213
numerical equality, 169, 17580
Nussbaum, Martha, 54, 7677
OBroin, Deiric, 83n35
ONeill, Martin, 108, 11011, 112, 114, 125,
15051, 152
opportunity, equality of, 9, 1023, 121, 149, 153
oppression, 62n51, 173, 213
five faces of, 154
option luck, 8, 46, 47
Orwell, George, 212n16
Paine, Thomas, 2, 107
paralympics, 103
Parfit, Derek, 7, 9
Paugam, Serge, 45, 6162

perfectionist claims, 16364, 166


personal relationships, 34, 16. See also
egalitarian personal relationships
Pettit, Philip, 45, 46, 50, 5356, 5761, 6364,
116
Plato, 168
pluralism, 50, 1001
pluralist social egalitarianism (PSE), 1415, 146,
147, 14852, 16266
challenges to, 15455
defined, 148
egalitarianism as ultimate concern in, 15152
paradigmatic example of, 14849
social status norms and, 159, 16265
political equality, 2, 4, 13, 16, 24, 189
moral equality and, 17172
social status norms and, 159, 161
political institutions. See institutions
political liberalism, 50
politics of difference, 5, 6
positive appraisal, 91, 94, 98, 99, 102, 104
poverty, 6162, 211, 223
power, 11, 66, 8085. See also arbitrariness;
domination
liberal egalitarianism on, 81
radical egalitarianism on, 8185
social status and, 160, 165
three-dimensional account of, 81
vulnerability and, 11, 5253
workplace relationships and, 112, 11317
power over, 80, 8384
power to, 80, 81, 84
power with, 84
powerlessness, 154
praise, 91, 92, 98, 122
presumption of equality, 15, 168, 17485
apparent alternatives to, 18081, 183
different accounts of, 17781
premises of, 167
substantive justification of, 18185
primary discrimination, 171
principle of adequacy, 18184
principle of justification, 18284
principles of equality, 167, 16874.
See also formal equality; moral equality;
proportional equality
prioritarianism, 5, 9, 23
private sphere, 51, 136
privilege, 122, 211, 213
property rights, 202, 2056
proportional equality, 167, 168, 169, 170,
175, 178
PSE. See pluralist social egalitarianism
public sphere, 136, 143
race/ethnicity
disrespect based on, 140, 14142
inequalities of esteem based on, 92, 93,
9899
residential segregation based on, 189

I n d e x
school segregation based on, 190, 19698,
199, 201
unequal vs. unjust treatment and, 13233,
13637
radical egalitarianism, 12, 65, 66, 86
on love, care, and solidarity, 7780
on power, 8185
on respect and recognition, 6973, 76
randomization, 180, 181, 183, 184
Rawls, John, 6, 38, 42, 46, 47n8, 48, 49, 50, 66, 76,
8081, 131, 147, 148n5, 150, 153
Raz, Joseph, 140
reality, 21920
reciprocity, 24, 25, 31, 3536, 37, 40, 182
generalized vs. balanced, 78
moral equality and, 173, 174, 175
recognition, 3, 5, 6, 11, 12, 48, 51, 56, 66, 6773,
85, 102
gender(ed) relationships and, 123, 124
legal, 9091
liberal egalitarianism on, 69, 76
radical egalitarianism on, 6973, 76
richpoor relationships and, 112, 121, 122
recognition respect, 9091, 130, 13942, 145
relational (social) equality, defined, 1
relationships
affective, 74, 76, 77, 79
asymmetrical, 3, 53, 220, 221
discourse-friendly, 54
egalitarian personal (see egalitarian personal
relationships)
gender(ed), 12, 109, 112, 12324
personal, 34, 16
richpoor, 12, 13, 109, 112, 11723
same-sex, 36, 70, 76, 18990
social egalitarian
(see social egalitarian relationships)
workplace (see workplace relationships)
relative deprivation, 13, 11819
religion of inequality, 211, 212
republicanism, 11, 4564, 81, 114. See also
non-domination; vulnerability
limits of, 5864
recommendations of, 5758
as a social (relational) theory of equality,
4552
Republicanism (Pettit), 53
residential segregation, 189
respect, 3, 5, 11, 12, 24, 66, 6773, 77, 81, 85, 97,
1056
appraisal, 69, 70, 72, 90, 139
basic, 69, 70, 71, 73
democracy and, 82
esteem distinguished from, 87, 9095, 103
fairness at the expense of, 4849
liberal egalitarianism and, 69, 76
luck egalitarianism and, 149
moral equality and, 174
radical egalitarianism and, 6973, 76
recognition, 9091, 130, 13942, 145

2 41

richpoor relationships and, 122


self- (see self-respect)
wrongness of withholding, 130, 13842, 145
respect-for-persons, 3, 90, 92, 105
richpoor relationships, 12, 13, 109, 112, 11723
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 2, 107
Runciman, W.G., 87, 88, 89, 90, 9194, 96, 97,
9899, 105
Ruskin, John, 213, 214
Sahlins, Marshall D., 78
same-sex relationships, 36, 70, 76, 18990
Scanlon, Thomas, 87, 88, 9596, 97, 100, 101, 106,
150, 192
Scheffler, Samuel, 1011, 45, 46, 50, 108,
10910, 111, 117, 153n20, 189, 213
Schemmel, Christian, 7n16, 1415, 46, 50
School Choice (example), 132, 134, 137, 138
Schuppert, Fabian, 1213, 25n4
scorn, 88, 98
secondary discrimination, 171, 172, 173
Seidel, Christian, 22n2
self-respect, 110, 111, 112, 122, 123, 124
domination and, 56
justice-based relational egalitarianism on, 156
pluralist social egalitarianism on, 151
social bases of, 48
Sen, Amartya, 209, 210, 215, 21617, 222, 223
Sense and Sensibilia (Austin), 21920
separation (strategy), 26, 27
servile behavior, 110, 111, 112, 122, 213
Shklar, Judith, 217n36
Simmel, Georges, 61
slavery, 3, 69, 112, 113
social class, 3, 99, 104, 211, 212
social disqualification, 6162
social egalitarian relationships, 25, 10726.
See also gender(ed) relationships;
richpoor relationships; workplace
relationships
social (relational) equality, defined, 1
social ethos, 49, 83, 85
social gradient in health, 211
social justice. See justice
social relations structure, 4950
social space, 37, 221
social status hierarchies, 2, 3, 10, 12, 88, 15658.
See also inequalities of esteem; social status
norms; status equality
the harms of, 9596
moral equality on, 170
objectionable vs. unobjectionable, 108, 112
in the workplace, 113
social status norms, 14647, 15665
justice-based relational egalitarianism and,
158, 15962, 16365
pluralist social egalitarianism and, 159,
16265
social ties, weakening of, 63
social trust, 95, 96, 110, 111

2 42 I n d e x

society of equals, 3541, 136, 213


distribution role in, 3741
egalitarian deliberative constraint and, 3537,
3840
love in, 79
pluralist social egalitarianism and, 162
republicanism on, 51, 57
society of misters, 158
solidarity, 11, 66, 7380, 85, 110, 215
context dependency of, 75
democracy and, 82
liberal egalitarianism on, 7677, 7980
radical egalitarianism on, 7780
South East Asia, 186
splitting the difference (strategy), 25, 26
sporting competitions, 89, 1023, 104
state, 186208. See also institutions
the case for extending social equality outside
of, 19599
grounds for social equality in, 187, 202
objections/replies to social equality case,
2017
obstacles for extending social equality
outside of, 19295
scope of social equality in, 187
what social equality outside of requires,
199201
why social equality applies in, 18892
status equality. See also social status hierarchies
in personal relationships, 3132
radical egalitarianism on, 72
republicanism on, 51, 57, 58
stereotyping, 104, 109, 112, 12324, 141
stigmatization, 11011, 112
gender, 123, 124
inequalities of esteem and, 95
of poverty, 6162
wealth inequalities and, 119, 121, 122
structural vulnerability, 5861
subjection, 154
sufficientarianism, 9, 46, 77
supports of individuality, 63
Syldavia. See BorduriaSyldavia relations
taking turns (strategy), 25, 26
Tawney, R.H., 21112, 213, 214
telic egalitarianism, 9
territorial rights, 2025
Theory of Freedom, A (Pettit), 54
Theory of Justice, A (Rawls), 48, 147
Tocqueville, Alexis de, 157, 158, 160, 162, 163
trading off (strategy), 26

Tronto, Joan, 54
trust. See social trust
Tugendhat, Ernst, 178n28
unconscious recall, theory of, 218
unemployment, 11, 61, 63
United Kingdom, 104, 119, 222. See also benefit
cheats
United States, 186, 191
universal and reciprocal justification, 173
universal caregiver model, 7778
upward contempt, 99
utilitarianism, 4041, 77, 151, 175
values
egalitarian deliberative constraint and, 2627,
2829, 36
in social vs. distributive equality, 41
virtue, 51
vulnerability, 11, 45, 5264
beyond domination, 5864
disaffiliation and, 61, 6263
fundamental, 5356, 64
general definition of, 5253
long-term structural, 5861
to non-domination from, 5657
problematic, 53, 5556, 58, 59, 64
responding to, 5758
social disqualification and, 6162
vulnerability classes, 53
wealth inequalities, 11820
welfare recipients, 4849, 6162, 63.
See also benefit cheats
welfare state, 51, 62, 206, 223
Wellman, Christopher Heath, 204n33
Wolf, Naomi, 100n31
Wolff, Jonathan, 1516, 46, 50, 109n10, 149
Wollstonecraft, Mary, 2
women. See also feminism; gender(ed)
relationships
domination impact on, 5961
inequalities of esteem and, 93, 100, 1023, 105
missing, 217, 222
unjust treatment of, 13334
workplace relationships
managerworker, 12, 13, 109, 112, 11317
republicanism on, 58
Young, Iris Marion, 59, 61, 62n51,
68n7, 154, 216