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Does justice necessarily have to be equality?

July 18, 2013

Response from Charles Taliaferro on July 30, 2013
Interesting! In certain respects, when treating persons in terms of criminal justice, most of us believe that persons should not be given unfair, special treatment because of wealth, gender, ethnicity, family, and so on.... And in many areas, we assume that, in a just society, identical or similar cases should be treated equally. If you and I both earn the same amount of money from the same job and our conditions are similar (that is, it is not the case that, say, I am childless but you are supporting three children), we naturally expect that what we pay in taxes should be the same (or equal). But in a just society, there still may be inequalities in different areas: not all members of a society will be equally healthy or strong, equally intelligent, equally loved by care-givers, you may receive massive attention by fashion magazines because of your irresistible smile, while I get no attention at all, and so on.

One way to make progress here would be to think in terms of justice as fairness. This is something John Rawls pursued over a long period of reflection and debate. So, equality and inequality become important insofar as the equality or inequality is the result of being fair or unfair. So, imagine you and I are equally talented and either of us could have become a brain surgeon, but, as it happens, you are the one who puts the years of training into actually becoming a highly successful brain surgeon, while I decide to make and sell enough tourist art in order to pursue my real passion, surfing. Both of us may be equally happy, but I think many of us would think that the surgeon would rightly be rewarded with greater goods (income) than the surfer.


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