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ʻA just socialist society would be one where there were no inequalities between persons traceable to brute luck but there might still be vast inequalities between persons traceable to responsible choiceʼ. Do you agree or disagree with this claim?

I agree with the claim that inequalities traceable to responsible choice do not make a society unjust, whereas those traceable to brute luck do. First I will establish that inequalities due to brute luck are unjust. There is a slippery slope from standard formal equality of opportunity; that there should be no discrimination based on random traits like gender, race, or sexual preference, to a socialist equality of opportunity; where equally random traits such as intelligence or ability also have no bearing on achievement. Following this I will justify inequalities due to responsible choice; full equality of outcome is unattractive and goes against most notions of just desert that we have. There are problems with luck egalitarianism; for example, it is difficult to decide exactly what characteristics are determined by luck, and which we choose, but overall I will conclude that there is a good case for eliminating the effects of brute luck from a society, if it is to be just. Using the common analogy of life as a race: “the fact that no one is allowed to have a head start does not make the race fair if some contestants have only one leg”1.

1
Ha‐Joon
Chang,
‘We
lost
sight
of
fairness
in
the
false
promise
of
wealth’
on
The


Guardian,
accessed
9/11/11:
 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/30/fairness­inequality­free­ market­growth



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There is an intuitive desire for some sort of equality of opportunity, or at least a lack of discrimination, in an ideal society. The majority of people argue that it is wrong for an individual to be punished (through being denied employment for example) due to her race or gender. Upon analysis, this appears to be unjust to us because the individual did not pick her race or gender: they were not her fault. The issue is with responsibility, or lack thereof. If we wish to prevent involuntary factors such as these from affecting somebodyʼs opportunities, then it seems we must also say other equally arbitrary factors like talent should have no effect. There is a slippery slope from formal and substantive equality of opportunity to socialist equality of opportunity as described by Cohen2, later called luck egalitarianism. Of course this only refers to constitutive and antecedent luck (luck determining your innate abilities and the circumstances you came from)3. There are issues concerning other types of luck, as at first it seems it is inescapable in all areas of life, and so almost irrelevant to our conception of justice. Resultant luck (where decisions that initially looked positive hurt you as a result of luck) and circumstantial luck (luck that determines the circumstances you make decisions in) are a part of our choice-making processes. An objection could be raised that since luck influences almost all of our life, it is futile to try and eliminate its effects. The response to this criticism must appeal to a distinction between brute luck and option luck. Option luck is the kind that influences responsible decision-making, as we
2
G.A.
Cohen,
Why
Not
Socialism?,
(Princeton,
NJ:
Princeton
University
Press,
2009)
p
13
 3
Kasper
Lippert‐Rasmussen,
‘Justice
and
Bad
Luck’,
Stanford
Encyclopedia
of
Philosophy,


accessed
10/11/11:
 http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justice­bad­luck/


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weigh up the pros and cons of any particular situation, before making an informed choice whilst aware of the risks. This is comparable to the resultant and circumstantial luck described above: deliberate gambles. Brute luck on the other hand is described by Dworkin as “a matter of how risks fall out that are not in that sense deliberate gambles”4. Brute luck has nothing to do with decision-making and is usually seen as ʻunfairʼ in comparison to fair gambles. Most people would not feel aggrieved or that an injustice had been done to them if they did not win the lottery, but we might feel sympathy for, or want to help, somebody who suddenly contracted cancer. This distinction is important, as it allows luck egalitarians to maintain an element of random chance in a society whilst eliminating unfair brute luck. Having established that inequalities due to luck, specifically brute luck, are unjust, and defended against the objection that luck is a part of life that we should preserve, I will now justify why the above system of luck egalitarianism allows for vast inequalities due to responsible choice. It seems intuitively true that we do not want to compensate people for mistakes they have willingly made; absolute equality of outcome no matter the effort expended or choices is not a particularly attractive system as it goes against notions of just deserts. It is unjust to reward someone for laziness or bad choices in the same way that it is unjust for someone to be punished because they were born the wrong race, or with the wrong abilities. The idea behind luck egalitarianism is that people should get what they deserve, which is attributed solely to the
4
Ronald
Dworkin,
Sovereign
Virtue
(Cambridge
MA:
Harvard
University
Press,
2000)
p


73
 
 


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amount of effort they apply, and the choices they make: what matters is the things we have control over, and so inequality due to these factors is therefore just.

Hence, if by “responsible for” we simply mean “should bear the costs of” (compare Ripstein 1994, 19n), the theist is responsible for his religiously mandated feelings of guilt.

Is everything a matter of luck? Isnʼt everything about our nature and personality genetically based, and as arbitrary as talent or skin colour? As Thomas Nagel writes “Everything seems to result from the combined influence of factors, antecedent and posterior to action, that are not within the agent's control. Since he cannot be responsible for them, he cannot be responsible for their results” (Nagel 1979, 35). Add to this the fact that talent often has a large influence on effort, or choices made, and there seems to be a strong objection to luck egalitarianism. It is quite common for people to try harder in school subjects that they enjoy and are good at for example. For socialist equality of opportunity to hold, we would have to be able to unravel the complex combination of talent, enjoyment and effort for any given task, and say beyond doubt that having less talent does not affect your capacity for making decisions about it. There needs to be a way of deciding what kind of inequalities matter, and what ʻcurrencyʼ we should use to correct inequality. I suggest Rawls expensive tastes objection “Citizens seem to be regarded as passive carriers

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of desires. The use of primary goods… relies on a capacity to assume responsibility for our ends”5 Cohen argues that this is no real objection at all, assuming no choice was made about the tastes. Combination of factors outside of the agentʼs control has made their tastes expensive, and under egalitarian principles they should not be punished for this. Their innate tastes have been developed by their parental/cultural influence, and the things she desires are made expensive by society. It isnʼt her fault that society deems these resources expensive: in a world where champagne was widely available and inexpensive she would have a much higher welfare at lower cost, and someone with a taste for something less common and more expensive would be punished. As long as we can assume that her taste for champagne does not derive directly from itʼs exclusivity and high price (as a status good), then it is difficult to justify why she should be punished for it. Actually when we talk about tastes, we need to be careful: what we donʼt want to allow compensation for are expensive ends. If what is at stake is merely an attempt to achieve the same standard levels of nourishment as everybody else (i.e. somebody who cannot stand eggs but cannot afford to buy fish may wish that he could eat the cheaper eggs). In this case it is justifiable to compensate for the individualʼs ʻtastesʼ as we are essentially raising them to the same standard level as others. It is analogous to providing medical help. Scanlon makes the point that ʻcompensationʼ is therefore a somewhat misleading term for what is required, since the point is to enable the people to have these

5
Rawls,
“Social
Unity
and
Primary
Goods,”
in
Amartya
Sen
and
Bernard
Williams
eds.


Utilitarianism
and
Beyond
(Cambridge,
UK:
Cambridge
University
Press,
1982),
pp.
168‐ 169


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essential things without difficulty, not simply to raise their level of welfare”.6 This is an important distinction that appears to solve the problem of expensive tastes for equality of welfare. Our intuitions are correct in that we should not have to pay for somebody else to gain pleasure from something more expensive, but at the same time we should do if the expensive good is required to bring them to a similar basic level as everyone else. I have argued that a just socialist society would have no inequality due to brute luck, but could (and possibly should) have inequalities due to responsible choice. Indeed, as Cohen argues, it is possible that equality itself could be considered unjust when “in disaccord with choice”, as these choices are what is important for justice (Cohen 2006, 444). I demonstrated that inequality due to brute luck is unjust, but inequality as a result of properly informed decision-making is just. The objection that luck is an integral part of life that should not be eliminated was dealt with by distinguishing unjust brute luck form just option luck. I also argued that such a system should attempt to equalise welfare for those who make equal choices and expend equal effort, despite the ʻexpensive tastesʼ problem. As long as the individual has not actively chosen his tastes, then he should not be punished for happening to live in a market where certain things are more expensive than others. Also, as Scanlon argues, we should be sympathetic to an individual who, through no fault of their own, has to expend many more resources to achieve the same standard level of welfare as other people.

6
Thomas
Scanlon,
‘Justice,
responsibility,
and
the
demands
of
equality’,
The
egalitarian


conscience:
Essays
in
honour
of
G.A.
Cohen,
ed.
Christine
Sypnowich
(Oxford:
Oxford
 University
Press,
2006)
p
17



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Having considered the previous objections, I therefore conclude that my thesis has been upheld: it would be just for a socialist society to have vast inequalities due to responsible choice, as long as inequality due to brute luck was eliminated.

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Bibliography

 • CHANG,
Ha‐Joon,
‘We
lost
sight
of
fairness
in
the
false
promise
of
wealth’
on
The
 Guardian,
accessed
9/11/11:
 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/30/fairness­inequality­ free­market­growth
 
 • COHEN,
G.
A.,
Why
Not
Socialism?,
(Princeton,
NJ:
Princeton
University
Press,
 2009)
 
 • DWORKIN,
Ronald,
Sovereign
Virtue
(Cambridge
MA:
Harvard
University
Press,
 2000)
 
 • SCANLON,
Thomas,

‘Justice,
responsibility,
and
the
demands
of
equality’,
The
 egalitarian
conscience:
Essays
in
honour
of
G.A.
Cohen,
ed.
Christine
Sypnowich
 (Oxford:
Oxford
University
Press,
2006)
pp.
70‐87
 
 • RAWLS,
John,
‘Social
Unity
and
Primary
Goods’,
in
Amartya
Sen
and
Bernard
 Williams
eds.
Utilitarianism
and
Beyond
(Cambridge,
UK:
Cambridge
University
 Press,
1982),
pp.
159‐186
 
 
 • LIPPERT‐RASMUSSEN,
Kasper,
‘Justice
and
Bad
Luck’,
Stanford
Encyclopedia
of
 Philosophy,
accessed
10/11/11:
 http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justice­bad­luck/


8

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