Brute Luck Equality and Desert
In recent years, interest in desert-based theories of justice has increased, and this seems to represent a challenge to equality- based theories of justice. The best distribution of outcome-advantage with respect to desert, after all, need not be the most equal distribution of outcome-advantage. Some individuals may deserve more than others. Outcome egalitarianism is, however, implausible, and so the conflict of outcome desert with outcome equality is of little significance. Most contemporary versions of egalitarianism are concerned with neutralizing the differential effects of brute luck and not with equality of outcome. I shall argue that, in order to be plausible, a desert-based theory of justice can and must be compatible with this form of egalitarianism. There is, however, a stronger form of brute luck egalitarianism, which, as I shall explain, is concerned with equalizing the advantages from brute luck—and not merely with neutralizing the differential effects thereof. Under idealized conditions in which agents have perfect information about the outcomes that their choices generate, even this stronger form of egalitarianism, I shall show, is compatible with pure desert theory. Under conditions of incomplete information, however, strong brute luck egalitarianism is incompatible with a pure desert theory that appeals, as I shall explain, to moral, rather than prudential, desert. The goal of this chapter is draw out the key differences between pure desert theory and brute luck egalitarianism. The assessment of the two theories in light of these differences must await another occasion.
Desert and Justice. ed. by Serena Olsaretti. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. pp.169-186.