When Justice Demands Inequality

in Journal of Moral Philosophy
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In Rescuing Justice and Equality G.A. Cohen argues that justice requires an uncompromising commitment to equality. Cohen also argues, however, that justice must be sensitive to other values, including a robust commitment to individual freedom and to the welfare of the community. We ask whether a commitment to these other values means that, despite Cohen’s commitment to equality, his view requires that we make room for inequality in the name of justice? We argue that even on Cohen’s version of egalitarianism equality, freedom, and welfare are not always compatible. Justice will require trade-offs between these values. Sometimes, equality will need to be sacrificed. This is a surprising result and to show it, we use two informal impossibility proofs drawn from examples in Rescuing Justice and Equality.

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References
  • 5

    CohenRescuing Justice and Equality pp. 181–225.

  • 7

    CohenRescuing Justice and Equality pp. 187–188.

  • 8

    Amartya Sen‘The Impossibility of a Paretian Liberal,’ The Journal of Political Economy78 (1970) 152–157.

  • 9

    Sen‘The Impossibility of a Paretian Liberal’ p. 153.

  • 11

    CohenRescuing Justice and Equality p. 184. Of course Cohen is not interested only in freedom of occupational choice he merely uses it to illustrate his argument but if we can show that there exists an unavoidable tension between this sort of freedom and equality then our argument generalizes to freedom more broadly construed.

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  • 12

    Sen‘The Impossibility of a Paretian Liberal’ p. 154.

  • 15

     See CohenRescuing Justice and Equality p. 187.

  • 17

    CohenRescuing Justice and Equality p. 184.

  • 26

    CohenRescuing Justice and Equality p. 187.

  • 27

    CohenRescuing Justice and Equality p. 188.

  • 31

    CohenRescuing Justice and Equality p. 196.

  • 34

    Sen‘The Impossibility of the Paretian Liberal’ p. 153.

  • 35

    G.A. CohenSelf-ownership Freedom and Equality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1995) pp. 56–57.

  • 37

    David Estlund‘Liberalism, Equality, and Fraternity in Cohen’s Critique of Rawls,’ Journal of Political Philosophy6 (1998) p. 99 and Samuel Scheffler The Rejection of Consequentialism (New York: Oxford University Press 1982).

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  • 43

     See CohenRescuing Justice and Equality pp. 387–389 Section 4 of the General Appendix “Incentives and Prerogatives.”

  • 45

    Aristophanes‘Ecclesiazusae,’ in The Complete Plays of Aristophanesed. by Moses Hadas Bantam Classic (New York: Bantam Classics 1981) p. 438.

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  • 46

    Aristophanes‘Ecclesiazusae’ p. 439.

  • 47

    Aristophanes‘Ecclesiazusae’ p. 457.

  • 48

    Aristophanes‘Ecclesiazusae’ p. 459.

  • 54

    CohenRescuing Justice and Equality p. 219.

  • 55

    CohenRescuing Justice and Equality p. 224.

  • 56

    CohenRescuing Justice and Equality p. 224.

  • 58

    CohenRescuing Justice and Equality p. 304.

  • 59

    CohenRescuing Justice and Equality p. 305. Here Cohen quotes Rawls approvingly the idea being that appeals to justice give strength to individuals’ claims that they would otherwise lack.

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  • 60

    Peter Railton‘Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality,’ Philosophy and Public Affairs13 (1984) pp. 134–171 at pp. 135–137.

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  • 61

    Railton‘Alienation Consequentialism and the Demands of Morality’ pp. 134–171 at p. 136.

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