22
Jul
09

is equality a genuine moral value?

In this post, I set out one alternative to egalitarianism. However, I skipped over giving an argument for why egalitarianism is not worthy of our moral attention.

Here is one argument for why equality is not intrinsically valuable, which is often called the leveling down objection. Imagine that we send a satellite out into the universe far in the future and find a civilization living on another planet that does not know of our existence. Suppose also that these people are worse off than us and there is no way for us to aid them or increase their well being.

An egalitarian claims that this situation would be improved in one respect if we on earth lowered our well being so that we were more equal with this distant and less well off civilization. Now, the egalitarian response has a ready response. He need not say that we should actually lower our welfare to make our two worlds more equal. The reason would be that maybe the gain in equality would not be worth the loss in utility. All things considered, we should not lower our society, but a lowered society would be better in terms of one value; in terms of equality.

But to me this response just begs the question. Yes, its true that by lowering ourselves, we would enhance the situation with regard to equality, but since we feel no* pull to do so why is equality a value? The question of the desirability or coherence of equality as a value is still in dispute, even though if it were a value, leveling ourselves down would undoubtedly serve it.

*Notice that it’s not like we feel a small tug in favor of leveling ourselves down, but that in the final analysis we feel like the loss in utility is just too great. Rather, I think our feeling about the case of the two worlds is that there is no reason to level our civilization down. We feel no pull toward equality. But if equality is a moral value, then we should feel some tug.

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