Relational and Luck Egalitarianism


 Convenor: David O’Brien (

            Egalitarian theories of justice claim that justice requires equality of something. Many egalitarians (Cohen, Dworkin, Arneson) have defended luck egalitarian versions of the basic egalitarian claim. In a familiar luck-egalitarian slogan: justice requires that the benefits and burdens of social cooperation be distributed in a way sensitive to choice and insensitive to circumstance. Recently, Elizabeth Anderson (1999, 2010) and others have defended a powerful alternative elaboration of the basic egalitarian claim. Relational egalitarianism says that justice requires treating people as moral equals. Relational and luck egalitarianism, Anderson has claimed, are in fundamental disagreement with each other.

The goal of this workshop is to explore the relation between relational and luck egalitarianism, clarify our understanding of the dispute, and identify its interest for other central issues in contemporary political philosophy. In exploring the relation between the two theories, we shall be concerned with such questions as: Do relational and luck egalitarianism indeed fundamentally disagree, or can they be reconciled? If the egalitarian theories fundamentally disagree, is there a principled way in which we can decide which theory is most plausible or most faithful to equality? (And: is there a ‘prior’ concept of equality at all?)

In sharpening our understanding of the dispute, we shall be interested in such questions as: Can luck egalitarians successfully press an ‘internal critique’ of relational egalitarian theories? Can luck egalitarians successfully appeal to value pluralism to avoid relational-egalitarian critiques? Can a different version of luck egalitarianism better survive the challenge of relational egalitarianism than the early versions propounded by Dworkin, Arneson, and Cohen?

In thinking about the interest of the dispute for broader questions in political philosophy, we shall be concerned with such questions as: Can relational egalitarianism better survive the general challenge to egalitarian theories posed by prioritarianism (or by non-egalitarian theories of justice)? Are the commitments to equality of comprehensive liberalism and political liberalism best understood as grounded in relational or luck egalitarianism? Is the capability approach fully compatible with both relational and luck egalitarianism, or might it help arbitrate the dispute between them? Can either luck or relational egalitarianism lay special claim to a Kantian heritage?

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