Philosophical Studies

, Volume 167, Issue 2, pp 341–360 | Cite as

Priority and position

  • Christopher Freiman


Positional goods are goods whose relative amount determines their absolute value. Many goods appear to have positional aspects. For example, one’s relative standing in the distribution of education and wealth may determine one’s absolute condition with respect to goods like employment opportunities, self-respect, and social inclusion. Positional goods feature in recent arguments from T.M. Scanlon, Brian Barry, and Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift that assert that we should favor egalitarian distributions of positional goods even if we reject equality as a fundamental principle of distributive justice. With respect to positional goods, worsening the better off is required to better the worse off. Thus, we have reason to “level down” goods such as education and wealth in order to benefit those worse off with respect to the value of those goods. I argue that the allegedly positional aspects of the goods in question are not actually positional. Moreover, leveling down these goods risks self-defeat: it may produce a net decrease in the value of the shares of individuals with less of such goods. If so, leveling down measures would fail on their own terms.


Positional goods Distributive Justice Egalitarianism Prioritarianism 



Thanks are due to Harry Brighouse and David Estlund for their invaluable feedback on this paper. I am also grateful to Nathan Ballantyne, Gerald Gaus, David Schmidtz, Kevin Vallier, Bekka Williams, the audience at the Arizona Current Research Workshop, and an anonymous referee for this journal for their helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCollege of William and MaryWilliamsburgUSA

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