TenetsApproach"" Blogs About us

A very brief overview on distributing wealth fairly

There are lots of things society might want to distribute equally, but wealth probably isn’t one of them. In this post we go over alternative ways to allocate money amongst a population.

This is a follow-up to the post What makes a fair and equal society?, where we define a fair society as a state or nation whose population have agreed in advance how assets (such as wealth, freedom, voting rights, etc.) should be distributed, and thereafter enforce this distribution. But although people may agree to distribute some of these assets equally to all individuals — for example legal rights, voting rights and opportunity — it’s not clear that they would feel the same way about material assets such as money and property. There are many differing opinions about how one might distribute this sort of asset (termed ‘material wealth’, sometimes shortened simply to ‘wealth’) if not evenly, and this post will give a brief overview of the different alternatives (the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy’s entry on distributive justice, found in the references, goes into all of them in more detail) together with a short discussion of the problem of choosing between them. It concludes with the current standpoint of this site, which we will expand on in future posts. Read the rest of this entry »

Looking for ways to calculate equal opportunity

The centrist tenet of egalitarianism holds that members of a society should have equal opportunity. But what does equal opportunity mean, and how can it be measured?

In the last post we looked at what might constitute a fair society and why it is difficult to work out what people should be equal in. While there is not yet a consensus on which principle of distributive justice a rational society should favour, the most convincing principles tend to agree that opportunity should be distributed equally. But before we can enforce equal opportunity, we must first agree on how to measure it.

Equality of opportunity (where everyone has an equal chance of achieving happiness, fulfilment, wealth etc.) is much more difficult to measure than things like equality of voting rights or equality of law1. Equality of opportunity is more complicated because ‘opportunities’ to achieve happiness and fulfilment tend to be intangible and immeasurable. Opportunities for an individual might include things like being born with a photographic memory, having access to role models, discovering hidden talents like playing the piano, meeting individuals by chance, and so on. These opportunities, which may be random or coincidental, are complicated to measure, even for a single person. Read the rest of this entry »

What makes a fair and equal society?

Everyone wants to live in a fair and equal society. This post discusses what makes one society fairer or more equal than another.

Ever since Aristotle there has been general agreement that every society should aim for equality and fairness. There’s less agreement about what these terms mean or how they should be measured. But there are good reasons for trying to define equality and fairness properly — not only would strict definitions allow us to mathematically measure the extent of equality and fairness accurately, but they would also let us establish whether a society really upholds them.

Equality, fairness and egalitarianism1 are, if taken literally, misleading goals for a society. The most obvious problem with equality, for instance, is that people are naturally unequal: they have different heights, different personality traits, and have varying likes and dislikes. What’s needed is a way to establish if a particular ‘aspect’ or ‘asset’ of society should be enforced as equal by law over all its members. One suggestion on how to decide which assets to equalise was proposed by the American philosopher John Rawls. Rawls argued that if a group of people were designing a new society from scratch, without knowing in advance what their position in it would be (without knowing if they were going to be born rich, well-connected, beautiful, popular or clever etc), they would rationally decide that at least some characteristics and assets of society — like freedom, laws and opportunities — should be the same for everyone. They’d do this because they would want to maximise their chances of being happy and fulfilled, regardless of their as-yet-unspecified social circumstances. Read the rest of this entry »

Origins of the tenets in British Philosophy

The tenets owe their beginnings not just to the philosophy of social science in general, but to British thinking especially.

What are laws for? One of the most satisfactory answers was proposed by the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes, writing around the middle of the 17th century. Hobbes noted that all forms of society share an important characteristic; that citizens form an unspoken agreement with their state. Under this agreement, citizens consent to sacrifice some of their freedom and follow laws laid down by the state in order to increase their own safety. One might lose one’s freedom to kill or harm others, but one gains an increase in safety by reducing the likelihood of being killed or harmed oneself. In a similar way, you might ‘agree’ (under the contract) to lose the right to keep all your money, in return for a paid police force, roads and an army to defend you and your fellow citizens. We never actually sign this ‘social contract’ of course, but that it has been agreed is implicit: if you break the law you face the consequences. If you don’t agree with the terms of the contract, you can move to a country where you find the terms more suitable or try to persuade the state to change the contract; if you could get enough people together, you could replace the current power with one that you think will be more accommodating. Read the rest of this entry »