Philippe van Parijs, "Are inequalities ever just ?", lecture given at the
opening session of the II. Simposio sobre Igualdad y Distribución de la Renta y la Riqueza organized by Prof. Jose María Maravall on behalf of the Fondación Argentaria (Madrid, 5-9 June 1995).
To the question "Are inequalities ever just ?", the answer is "Obviously yes" if the conception of justice to which we are committed gives no special place to substantive equality. There are three main families of conceptions of justice of this type : (1) desert conceptions, variants of which are suggested by Marx’s (1875) principle for the first stage of communism ("To each according to this labour") and by George Homans’s (1961) equity theory ; (2) strong entitlement conceptions, of
which Robert Nozick’s (1974) libertarianism and David Gauthier’s (1986) rational bargaining theory are probably the best known examples ; and (3) purely aggregative conceptions, for which Mill’s (1861) classical utilitarism and Harsanyi’s (1976) average utilitarism provide classic illustrations.
I personally reject these three families of conceptions, while at the same time accepting that each of them encapsulates something valuable that must find a place in any plausible ideal of distributive justice. For lack of time, let me just state very dogmatically what I see as the main and fatal problem with each of these families. (1) The desert conceptions rest on a shaky basis because of the controversial content of what actions are "deserving" and, to a lesser extent, of what counts as a "reward" in our pluralist societies. (2) The entitlement conceptions rest on a very fragile conception of how entitlements originally get off the ground and on an equally fragile justification of why they should be unrestricted. (3) The purely aggregative conceptions amount to making individual members of society sheer instruments for the achievement of some collective goal.
|Please click below to read the full article of Philippe van Parijs, Philosopher, Université catholique de Louvain, Hoover Chair.|
Photo : Bibliotheek Kortrijk