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The Individualist Ethical Justification of Equality and Its Problems

  • John Charvet

Abstract

There is in modern English-speaking political philosophy a longstanding tradition of justifying an egalitarian basic structure to society in utilitarian terms. I do not mean by this the simple assertion and re-assertion of Bentham’s supposed dictum that everyone is to count for one and nobody for more than one. That fundamental moral requirement is compatible, in the context of a utilitarian ethic, with inegalitarian basic structures comprising ruling classes and unequal rights should such structures turn out to produce the best consequences. A utilitarian justification of equality, then, involves the claim that organizing society on the basis of a structure of fundamentally equal rights will in fact produce more good overall than any alternative structure, where good is understood in terms of people’s subjective states of welfare. Such claims are to be found in Bentham, John Stuart Mill, R. M. Hare, and many other utilitarian thinkers. I shall not, however, discuss these arguments. I shall follow the dominant contemporary philosophical opinion in rejecting such utilitarian justifications on the grounds articulated by Rawls that they do not sufficiently secure against a person’s rights being overridden for the sake of a greater utility accruing to others as a result of such discrimination.

Keywords

Moral Person Range Property Personal Project Human Equality Standard Justification 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

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Copyright information

© John Charvet 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Charvet
    • 1
  1. 1.London School of EconomicsUK

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