My book attempts to build a new theory of egalitarian justice in political philosophy. In the theories of egalitarian justice, John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice (1971) is widely considered as the most important work in the 20th century. Lively debates on equality and justice have been conducted in political philosophy before and after the publication of A Theory of Justice.
In these debates, one strand of egalitarian justice has attracted much attention since the 1980s: luck egalitarianism. Luck egalitarianism holds that justice nullifies the influence of factors beyond one’s control, i.e., luck, as much as is possible. At first glance, this theory is intuitively supportable in that, while we should leave the consequences of one’s own choices such as gambling intact, we should deal with the inequalities stemming from differences in social status and inborn abilities. However, there are two main problems with luck egalitarianism.
First, luck egalitarianism holds an agent responsible for the unequal consequences of voluntary choice even when this makes the agent excessively worse off. Since the mid-1990s, a number of renowned political philosophers have argued that this rigid assignment of responsibility is not compatible with the egalitarian ethos.
Second, and more important, luck egalitarianism does not clarify why equality must be the basis of our evaluative judgment. In other words, it is not at all clear what normative principles support redistribution in order to extinguish the effects of luck.
My book proposes a new theory of responsibility-sensitive egalitarianism to overcome these two shortcomings. It holds that the first problem can be overcome by a plausible conception of choice responsibility or, more concretely, the rational capacity-based conception of responsibility (Chapter 5). Our rational capacities are never perfect, as experientially confirmed by findings in cognitive psychology and behavioral economics. Thus, unlike luck egalitarianism, the harshness concern does not beset my theory of justice, which is based on the proposed conception of choice responsibility.
My book also argues that the second problem can be overcome by showing the intrinsic value of equality (Chapter 4). This value is “cosmic” in that it supervenes on the pure equal relationship as the ultimate ideal standing beyond the context of our actual world. The ideal of “equality as the cosmic value” may seem implausible. However, it provides a reasonable basis for our pursuit of justice. For one, this ideal does not allow justice to favor the radical inequalities that luck egalitarian justice may allow.
I am convinced that my book presents a new theory of egalitarian justice. My theory of egalitarian justice has a practical implication: it poses a challenge against the strange coexistence of neoliberalism and irresponsibility in Japan.
(Written by INOUE Akira, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences / 2018)