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Equal Opportunity, Responsibility, and Personal Identity

  • Ian Carter
Article

Abstract

According to the ‘starting-gate’ interpretation of equality of opportunity, individuals who enjoy equal starts can legitimately become unequal to the extent that their differences derive from choices for which they can be held responsible. There can be no coercive transfers of resources in favour of individuals who disregarded their own futures, and no limits on the right of an individual to distribute resources intrapersonally. This paper assesses two ways in which advocates of equality of opportunity might depart from the starting-gate interpretation. The first involves limiting the degree to which people are liable to pay the costs of their past choices. The second involves limiting their initial opportunities so as to prevent certain risky or apparently short-sighted choices. The paper compares these alternatives in terms of their compatibility with a particular conception of persons as morally equal and temporally extended. It constructs this conception by combining reductionist premises about personal identity with the premise that our status as equals is based on the fundamental requirement of opacity respect. Two conclusions about equality of opportunity are shown to follow from this conception of persons as morally equal and temporally extended: the first is that an individual’s liability to pay the costs of her past choices does not diminish over time; the second is that the individual’s initial scope of choice, in bringing about intrapersonal distributions between her current and future selves, can nevertheless be permissibly limited. The two conclusions are consistent, and the second allows for departures from starting-gate equality of opportunity.

Keywords

Equality of opportunity Basic equality Responsibility Personal identity Agency Freedom 

Notes

Acknowledgements

For feedback on earlier versions of this article I am grateful to audiences at conferences in Pavia (Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 20th Anniversary Conference, June 2017) and Genova (Italian Society for Analytic Philosophy Mid-term Conference, December 2017), as well as to Patrick Tomlin and two anonymous referees.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political and Social SciencesUniversity of PaviaPaviaItaly

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