Natural and Social Inequality

Disability and Fair Equality of Opportunity

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
Sean AasDepartment of Clinical Bioethics, National Institutes of Health,
Department of Clinical Bioethics, National Institutes of Health,

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David Wasserman
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This paper examines the moral import of a distinction between natural and social inequalities. Following Thomas Nagel, it argues for a “denatured” distinction that relies less on the biological vs. social causation of inequalities than on the idea that society is morally responsible for some inequalities but not others. It maintains that securing fair equality of opportunity by eliminating such social inequalities has particularly high priority in distributive justice. Departing from Nagel, it argues that society can be responsible for inequalities not only when they are the unintended result of justifiable projects, but even when their alleviation would be very costly. Sharing Nagel’s general concept of ‘social inequality’, then, this paper proposes a far more expansive conception. We argue that many disadvantages due to disability fall under this conception. Eliminating or alleviating those disadvantages should be regarded as securing fair equality of opportunity, not improving the condition of the worst-off.

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