Review Of "Why Does Inequality Matter?" By T. Scanlon

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This book makes a significant contribution to philosophical understanding of both equality and the current situation in much of the world, where gross inequalities mar political, economic, and social life. Scanlon (emer., Harvard) does not rely on the contractual moral theory he developed in What We Owe to Each Other (CH, Feb'00, 37-3303), though he emphasizes the importance of good reasons in explaining why inequality matters. The view Scanlon defends is relational and pluralistic—relational in that in/equality centers on one's relationship to others; pluralistic in that there is not just one master argument that shows what is wrong with inequality when it is wrong. Inequality cannot be justified when it violates equal concern, equal status, fairness of political/economic institutions, and circumstances that generate large differences in outcomes. Scanlon explores these in detail with significant attention paid to counterarguments, in particular those based on considerations of individual liberty. One especially noteworthy feature of Scanlon’s account is that it concentrates on how the design and operation of institutions can create unjust inequalities, not on how bad individual people take advantage of them. If institutional arrangements lead to offensive inequalities, then it is right and proper to work on changing those arrangements so that they conform to sound moral reasons. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.


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