Distributive justice, social cooperation, and the basis of equality

Theoria 88 (6):1180-1195 (2022)
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Abstract

This paper considers the view that the basis of equality is the range property of being a moral person. This view, suggested by John Rawls in his A Theory of Justice (1971), is commonly dismissed in the literature. By defending the view against the criticism levelled against it, I aim to show that this dismissal has been too quick. The critics have generally failed to fully appreciate the fact that Rawls's account is restricted to the domain of distributive justice. On Rawls's view distributive justice is a matter of the fair terms of cooperation among the participants of a system of social cooperation. I argue that this understanding of distributive justice can provide a compelling rationale for considering moral personality as the basis of equality for this domain of morality. That moral persons are indeed equal is further supported by an intuitive argument concerning the irrelevance of morally arbitrary factors, giving us reasons to believe that varying capacities among moral persons does not result in an unequal moral status. The dismissal of Rawls's account of equality has thus been premature, and it remains an important view to consider.

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Emil Andersson
Uppsala University

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