When Justice Demands Inequality

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
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  • 1 University of Arizona
  • 2 University of Arizona, Rutgers University

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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.

  • 5

    Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality, pp. 181–225.

  • 7

    Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality, pp. 187–188.

  • 8

    Amartya Sen, ‘The Impossibility of a Paretian Liberal,’ The Journal of Political Economy, 78 (1970), 152–157.

  • 9

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

  • 11

    Cohen, Rescuing 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 Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality, p. 187.

  • 17

    Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality, p. 184.

  • 26

    Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality, p. 187.

  • 27

    Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality, p. 188.

  • 31

    Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality, p. 196.

  • 34

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

  • 35

    G.A. Cohen, Self-ownership, Freedom, and Equality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 56–57.

  • 37

    David Estlund, ‘Liberalism, Equality, and Fraternity in Cohen’s Critique of Rawls,’ Journal of Political Philosophy, 6 (1998), p. 99 and Samuel Scheffler, The Rejection of Consequentialism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982).

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  • 43

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

  • 45

    Aristophanes, ‘Ecclesiazusae,’ in The Complete Plays of Aristophanes, ed. 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

    Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality, p. 219.

  • 55

    Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality, p. 224.

  • 56

    Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality, p. 224.

  • 58

    Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality, p. 304.

  • 59

    Cohen, Rescuing 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 Affairs, 13 (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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