Review Of "On Inequality" By H. G. Frankfurt

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Author of the best-selling On Bullshit (2005) and On Truth (CH, May'07, 44-4979)​, Frankfurt (emer., philosophy, Princeton) treats readers to another brief, elegantly written book. He argues that any value equality has is instrumental not intrinsic. To say that equality lacks intrinsic value is to say that equality is neither an end in itself nor worth pursuing for its own sake. But instrumental value is still a value: a life preserver, after all, has only instrumental value. And just as a life preserver is not worth having in a desert, so equality is not worth pursuing in many circumstances. What matters, argues Frankfurt, is that people have enough equality to live fully worthwhile lives, not just enough equality to get by. In an affluent society this justifies transferring wealth, through taxation or regulation, from those who have more than enough to those who do not. Frankfurt agrees with those who say great wealth can corrupt both politics and public life generally, and this provides another instrumental reason for blocking obscene accumulations of wealth. That this might decrease the gap between rich and poor is not the aim. In developing his argument, Frankfurt distinguishes between equality, respect, equal rights, and impartiality and shows the relevance/irrelevance of each. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.


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