Justice, Institutions, and Luck
The Site, Ground, and Scope of Equality
University Press 2012
Justice requires that each person gets what he or she deserves. Luck is a matter of good or bad things simply befalling people; hence luck distributes to people things they do not deserve. Justice must then be in the business of morally correcting the impact of luck on individuals’ lives.
This is an extremely simplified articulation of a popular–and in certain philosophical circles infamous–conception of justice called luck egalitarianism. As a kind of egalitarianism, luck egalitarianism holds that justice requires something to be distributed equally, and various versions of the doctrine disagree about what this is. The luck in luck egalitarianism holds that justice requires that individuals not be advantaged (or disadvantaged) for features of their lives that have simply befallen them as a matter of good (or bad) luck; rather, social advantage (and disadvantage) should be tied to an individual’s choices. This basic principle of luck egalitarianism seems intuitive. The difficulty lies in building a conception of social justice upon it. Three pressing details confronting the luck egalitarian are the site, ground, and scope of egalitarian justice. These correspond, roughly to the following three questions: (1) to what do egalitarian principles of justice apply?; (2) Why does equality matter?; and (3) To whom are egalitarian duties of justice owed?
In his new book, Justice, Institutions, and Luck: The Site, Ground, and Scope of Equality (Oxford University Press, 2012), Kok-Chor Tan articulates and defends an original conception of luck egalitarianism according to which (1) egalitarian principles of justice apply to social institutions rather than to the whole of social life; (2) equality matters because there is a fundamental moral distinction between luck and choice; and (3) duties of justice are not bounded by state borders, but are owed globally. In developing his view, Tan responds to luck egalitarianism’s critics and launches compelling critiques of its competitors. The book hence provides the reader with both a detailed roadmap of the current debates over egalitarianism and a state-of-the-art formulation of a distinctive egalitarian conception of justice.