Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 393–407 | Cite as

Choices Chance and Change: Luck Egalitarianism Over Time

  • Patrick TomlinEmail author


The family of theories dubbed ‘luck egalitarianism’ represent an attempt to infuse egalitarian thinking with a concern for personal responsibility, arguing that inequalities are just when they result from, or the extent to which they result from, choice, but are unjust when they result from, or the extent to which they result from, luck. In this essay I argue that luck egalitarians should sometimes seek to limit inequalities, even when they have a fully choice-based pedigree (i.e., result only from the choices of agents). I grant that the broad approach is correct but argue that the temporal standpoint from which we judge whether the person can be held responsible, or the extent to which they can be held responsible, should be radically altered. Instead of asking, as Standard (or Static) Luck Egalitarianism seems to, whether or not, or to what extent, a person was responsible for the choice at the time of choosing, and asking the question of responsibility only once, we should ask whether, or to what extent, they are responsible for the choice at the point at which we are seeking to discover whether, or to what extent, the inequality is just, and so the question of responsibility is not settled but constantly under review. Such an approach will differ from Standard Luck Egalitarianism only if responsibility for a choice is not set in stone—if responsibility can weaken then we should not see the boundary between luck and responsibility within a particular action as static. Drawing on Derek Parfit’s illuminating discussions of personal identity, and contemporary literature on moral responsibility, I suggest there are good reasons to think that responsibility can weaken—that we are not necessarily fully responsible for a choice for ever, even if we were fully responsible at the time of choosing. I call the variant of luck egalitarianism that recognises this shift in temporal standpoint and that responsibility can weaken Dynamic Luck Egalitarianism (DLE). In conclusion I offer a preliminary discussion of what kind of policies DLE would support.


Luck egalitarianism Personal identity Equality Responsibility Distributive justice 



I am grateful for questions and comments from Christian Barry, Yitzhak Benbaji, Dan Butt, Ian Carroll, Jurgen De Wispelaere, Barbara Fried, Bob Goodin, Sarah Hannan, Hugh Lazenby, Meena Krishnamurthy, Dan McDermott, David Miller, Jonathan Pickering, Jahel Queralt Lange, Nic Southwood, anonymous referees and audiences at the University of Oxford, the Australian National University, and the University of Sheffield. I am especially grateful to Rob Jubb, Zofia Stemplowska and Laura Valentini for discussion, comments and encouragement. I would like to acknowledge the financial support of the AHRC.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Politics & International RelationsUniversity of ReadingReadingUK

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