The Journal of Ethics

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 387-403

First online:

Health, Luck and Moral Fallacies of the Second Best

  • Eric CavalleroAffiliated withSouthern Connecticut State University Email author 

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Individuals who become ill as a result of personal lifestyle choices often shift the monetary costs of their healthcare needs to the taxpaying public or to fellow members of a private insurance pool. Some argue that policies permitting such cost shifting are unfair. Arguments for this view may seem to draw support from luck egalitarian accounts of distributive justice. This essay argues that the luck egalitarian framework provides no such support. To allocate healthcare costs on the basis of personal responsibility would arbitrarily and publicly burden socially detectable risk-takers while undetectable risk-takers continue to get a free ride. That problem is unavoidable even on the assumption that distributive institutions outside the healthcare sector are fully just. In actual, farfrom-just societies, imposing personal liability for the costs of voluntary risk taking would be wrong for an additional reason. Doing so would tend to magnify existing distributive injustices. These conclusions draw attention to two common ‘moral fallacies of the second best’ that can arise when applying ideal normative theory to matters of institutional design and in real-world policy contexts.


Egalitarianism Health Healthcare Luck Luck egalitaianism Personal responsibility Responsibility