What is this blog about?

What is this blog about?

I am a political philosopher. My 'political philosophy' is a form of 'liberal egalitarianism.' So in this blog I reflect on various issues in political philosophy and politics (especially Canadian and American politics) from a liberal egalitarian perspective.

If you are curious about what I mean by 'liberal egalitarianism,' my views are strongly influenced by the conception of justice advanced by John Rawls. (So I sometimes refer to myself as a 'Rawlsian,' even though I disagree with Rawls on some matters.)

Astonishingly, I am paid to write and teach moral and political philosophy. I somehow manage to do this despite my akratic nature. Here is my faculty profile.

Monday, July 27, 2015


The political system of the contemporary United States is a de facto oligarchy (a ‘plutocracy,’ to be precise).  And the organization that shapes much of its legislation these days, especially at the state-level, is ALEC (the ‘American Legislative Exchange Council’).  The ‘model bills’ that ALEC drafts – and which subsequently often are passed with only minor tweaks by Republican-controlled state legislatures – aim at serving the interests and increasing the power of the wealthy (by weakening or destroying environmental protections, regulations on corporations, taxes on the wealthy, regulations on campaign contributions, and so forth), and at disempowering the less advantaged (by weakening or destroying collective bargaining rights, voting rights, local self-government, public education, workplace protections, and so forth).

This excellent cartoon – a spoof of the old ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’ cartoon “I’m Just a Bill” – nicely summarizes what ALEC is about and its thoroughly negative impact on contemporary American politics.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The two families of liberal egalitarianism

This is a blog about liberal egalitarianism.  So what is 'liberal egalitarianism'?  There are two main varieties in contemporary political philosophy: 'luck egalitarianism' and 'relational egalitarianism.'  I endorse the latter kind.

Here is a very rough overview of these two families of views from my recent review of Shlomi Segall's book Equality and Opportunity:
Two families of liberal egalitarian conceptions of justice have emerged over the past few decades: luck egalitarianism and relational egalitarianism. Both families share a common ancestor: the account of justice presented in John Rawls's A Theory of Justice (originally published in 1971; revised edition published in 1999).  
Luck egalitarians have understood their project, at least in part, as developing the implications of Rawls's comments on the 'moral arbitrariness' of the distribution of unchosen social and natural advantages in Theory (e.g., pp. 63-65, 87-89, 274) into a distinct approach to theorizing about justice, one that is egalitarian in nature but also sensitive to individual responsibility. According to luck egalitarians, roughly, the aim of justice is to neutralize any disadvantages that people are born into or acquire as the result of brute luck, disadvantages for which they are not responsible and consequently do not deserve. In a fully just luck egalitarian society, people would fare well or poorly solely in conformity to those decisions and actions for which they are responsible. 
Despite helping to inspire luck egalitarianism, Rawls's conception of justice, 'justice as fairness,' is a form of relational egalitarianism. While not all relational egalitarians endorse justice as fairness, they generally follow Rawls's 'constructivist' approach to thinking about justice. (Some relational egalitarians, like Elizabeth Anderson, prefer to speak of 'contractualism' rather than 'constructivism.' I understand contractual devices like Rawls's 'original position' to be constructivist in nature. But this matter is not relevant to my comment here.) According to this approach, broadly speaking, principles of political justice should be understood as rationally constructed in order to specify the requirements of free and equal citizenship under conditions of relative scarcity. A fully just relational egalitarian society, then, is not one that 'neutralizes luck,' but rather one in which citizens relate to each other as social equals on the basis of mutual respect, and freely govern their lives on conditions fair to all.
Perhaps that summary generates more confusion than clarification.  However, the rest of the review fleshes out some of the key differences between relational egalitarians like Rawls and Anderson on the one hand, and luck egalitarians like Segall and G.A. Cohen on the other.  So if you'd like a better picture of what is at stake in this debate — and some reasons why I think that the Rawlsian relational egalitarian approach is superior — then I'd recommend reading the full review.  (I'd also recommend reading Elizabeth Anderson's article, "The Fundamental Disagreement between Luck Egalitarians and Relational Egalitarians" (2010, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 40: sup1, pp.1-23).)