Social Philosophy and Policy 2 (1):33-60 (1984)
AbstractThe subject of this essay is political, and therefore social, philosophy; and therefore, ethics. We want to know whether the right thing for a society to do is to incorporate in its structure requirements that we bring about equality, or liberty, or both if they are compatible, and if incompatible then which if either, or what sort of mix if they can to some degree be mixed. But this fairly succinct statement of the issue before us requires considerable clarification, even as a statment of the issue. For it is widely, and in my view correctly, held that some sort of equality is utterly fundamental in these matters. We seek a principle, or principles, that apply to all, are the same for all. In that sense, certainly, equality is fundamental and inescapable. But this is a very thin sort of “equality.” It will almost equally widely be agreed that the principles in question should in some more interesting sense “treat” people equally, e.g., by allotting to all the same set of rights, and moreover, rights that are – again we have to say “in some sense” – nonarbitrary, so that whatever they are, persons of all races, sexes, and so on will have the same fundamental rights assigned to them. Taking this to be, again, essentially uncontroversial, though not without potentially worrisome points of unclarity, it needs, now, to be pointed out that this characterization does not settle the issue that this essay is concerned with. That issue is about economic matters in particular.
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