Luck Egalitarianism and the History of Political Thought

In Camilla Boisen & Matthew C. Murray (eds.), Distributive Justice Debates in Political and Social Thought. Abingdon, UK: pp. 26-38 (2016)
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Luck egalitarianism is a family of egalitarian theories of distributive justice that give a special place to luck, choice, and responsibility. These theories can be understood as responding to perceived weaknesses in influential earlier theories of both the left – in particular Rawls’ liberal egalitarianism (1971) – and the right – Nozick’s libertarianism (1974) stands out here. Rawls put great emphasis on the continuity of his theory with the great social contract theories of modern political thought, particularly emphasising its Kantian character, while Nozick overtly develops his theory as an elaboration of John Locke’s account of property. By contrast, how luck egalitarianism is related to the history of political thought or philosophy more generally has been left unexplored by its proponents. Perhaps this is because they see luck egalitarianism, with its focus on individual choice and association with such contemporary concerns as equality of opportunity, as without significant predecessors in the canon. My purpose in this chapter is to make the tentative first steps towards identifying some historical antecedents of luck egalitarianism among the main works of Western political thought, in particular Aristotle, Machiavelli, and Locke.

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Carl Knight
University of Glasgow


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