egalitarianism as a value

I’ve shied away from serious ethics posts lately, but it takes me a long time to think about ethics problems, and so this post is again more of a survey of a problem than a good solution.

In this post, I argued on behalf of egalitarianism claiming that the fact that a situation is not worse for anyone compared to another situation does not make the situation incapble of being worse in any respect. For example, a situation in which criminals are punished is not better for anyone in terms of welfare, but the situation  still seems better than one in which criminals go free.

So, why is egalitarianism not the same way? Just because a situation in which the better off are made much better off (thereby exacerbating inequality), is not worse for anyone, it could still be worse in one respect.

I think the reason that equality is different than other impersonal values such as autonomy or retributive justice is that equality is not about any one person, but rather about the distribution of welfare in the society. For example, I may have the same welfare whether I am autonomous or not (pretend someone controls my mind), but whether I am autonomous is a fact about me. By the same token, if I’m a criminal and I’m punished, it has to do with my actions. Where equality concerns a relationship between me and another person. If my friend and I live unequal lives, its not a fact about me that makes the outcome bad, it’s a fact about someone else’s welfare compared to me.

This isn’t really an argument, because I have not given a reason for the significance of this difference, if this even is a difference, but I’m tempted to think along those lines.


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