John Stuart Mill on Luck and Distributive Justice

In Ian M. Church & Robert J. Hartman (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy and Psychology of Luck. Routledge. pp. 80-93 (2019)
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My aim in this chapter is to place John Stuart Mill’s distinctive utilitarian political philosophy in the context of the debate about luck, responsibility, and equality. I hope it will reveal the extent to which his utilitarianism provides a helpful framework for synthesizing the competing claims of luck and relational egalitarianism. I attempt to show that when Mill’s distributive justice commitments are not decided by direct appeal to overall happiness, they are guided by three main public principles: an impartiality principle, a sufficiency principle, and a merit principle. The question then becomes how luck and relational considerations figure into his articulation of these public principles. I argue that relational egalitarianism is more fundamental than considerations of luck and responsibility in Mill’s thought, but I also hope to show that any fleshed out picture of Mill’s reform proposals must recognize his condemnation of the role luck plays in determining the distribution of opportunities and outcomes.

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Piers Norris Turner
Ohio State University


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