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The value of equality

O'Halloran, L.M.; (2011) The value of equality. Masters thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis undertakes to explain the appeal of the ideal of equality and the role of the intrinsic value of equality therein. Following John Rawls, it ultimately argues that justice requires the equal distribution of fundamental resources and privileges, and that equality may only be deviated from to the extent that these deviations better the lot of the worst-off. Thus justice requires equality. However, I argue that Rawls’s difference principle (DP) is a way of respecting what is politically pragmatic without ensuring true justice. A proper conclusion of Rawls’s reasoning in support of the difference principle would permit inequalities only to the extent that they reflect unequal burdens, as suggested by G. A. Cohen. Despite this egalitarian conclusion, however, I argue that Rawls need not rely on the intrinsic value of equality. To this end, I begin by examining the value of equality as it appears in egalitarian theories of distributive justice, noting the difficulty in proving that equality is of underived or intrinsic worth. I then scrutinize two challenges to Rawls’s DP which, however opposed in direction, share the assumption that the DP relies on the intrinsic value of equality. Both challenges reveal weaknesses in Rawls’s principle as it is typically formulated, leading us to doubt its very appeal – let alone its ability to prove the value of equality. On a proper reading of Rawls, however, what politically matters about equality doesn’t presuppose that equality itself is a value. Thus we can see Rawls’s difference principle as intending to do justice to what is owed to each citizen, without having to be axiologically creative in the way that Cohen is. Conversely, arguments for the difference principle go beyond the mere sufficiency Frankfurt allows for. So, again, Rawls better reflects the political attraction of equality than Frankfurt’s appeal to sufficiency can recognize. In closing, therefore, I argue that an alternative reading of Rawls’s argument for the DP offers a compelling explanation for the appeal of the ideal of equality, an explanation that warrants a more egalitarian conclusion than Rawls himself concedes. Thus, justice requires equality, but not necessarily because equality is intrinsically valuable.

Type: Thesis (Masters)
Title: The value of equality
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of Philosophy
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1310433
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