Free Custom «Dworkin?s Theory of Equality and Individual Responsibility» Essay Paper

Free Custom «Dworkin?s Theory of Equality and Individual Responsibility» Essay Paper

There is no doubt about the Theory of Justice by John Rawls being one of the most important works of political philosophy the world has had in many decades. It is very possible that many would assume that the discussion of Rawls centers on the development of the contemporary theories of equality (1971). The theory of equality in Dworkin’s perspective seems to raise two central challenges to Rawls the first being the devotion of social resources to improving the position of those with the least income and wealth or riches but their needs to be the investigation of how they came to be in that position (1981). It could probably be very true that certain people are in a given position because they are unable to work, or to find work. However, other may have chosen to not to work. Therefore, are they equally deserving or entitled to benefit from the work of others? Can it be very fair to tax the very industrious for the benefit of those who are equally capable of working hard and equally talented or gifted but deliberately have chosen to lazy about? In Dworkin’s view this is contrary to equality. Accordingly, we must understand that equality should allow people who work hard to benefit the goods all left constant while those who are deliberately choosing not to work or do less must or should bear the consequences of those choices.

The second issue being raised by Dworkin is that in the index of primary goods, and particularly on income and wealth, ignoring facts that some people have much more expensive needs than others plays a major role. Persons with severe disabilities or have very expensive medical requirements may have a reasonable income but this possibly could be wholly inadequate to pay the expense required in order to achieve a reasonable level of well-being. According to Dworkin, for ethical liberals justice is a matter of resources and distributive justice demands that resources should be shared equally. The principle Dworkin proposes entails amongst other things that a larger share of resources allocation would not be in the interest of the worst-off people. Rather the contrary, to their interests if they were to move from a smaller but just allocation of resources to a larger but unjust allocation.

Individual Responsibility: Dworkin’s Conception

Responsibility or individuals is paramount in the search for equality. Individuals must be held accountable for and must accept the consequences of their choices about how to live their lives unless their freedom of choice has been impeded by various circumstances beyond their control.

Dworkin suggest that the accountability of individuals must be accompanied with ambition-sensitive as well as endowment-insensitivity for people to accommodate the notion of individual responsibility. Dworkin recognizes the importance of individual accountability as being reflected in the requirements that the distribution of resources must be ambition sensitive thus the distribution should track choices freely made by people about how to live. A number of choices for which people can be held responsible can be categorized as:

- Choices concerning the mix of pleasure and work; preference for more leisure lifestyle will result in less income, wealth etc

- Choice about a person’s occupation or career

- Choice concerning the level of risk one is prepared to take in leading their lives.

It is very important to realize that every person has some level of good and significant contribution that can be used as human capital. Humans are not just means of production but must be valued as the end of the production process (Sen, 2001). Human capital indeed is a very important and fundamental item but despite the same, it is very important to see the human being in a broader perspective, according to Sen. Assertion is that people must go beyond the notion of human capital even with the acknowledgement of its relevance and reach and focus on the instrumental role of capability expansion in contributing to the overall social change. According to Held, a basic principle of democratic constitution is liberty. But it may be very confusing especially in determining the truth in such statements as it has been said and proved that every democracy has liberty for its aim which results in ‘ruling and being ruled in turn’. Held notes that in order to have effective principles of governance, equality is a very essential factor and that without numerical equality the people cannot be sovereign. This implies that equality of the numbers makes the citizens able to contribute to the general wellbeing of others and even themselves. Making people have equality of resources and basic capabilities ensures that they possibly can share in the ruling since they all can participate in financial remuneration and not being worse off as a result of not being involved in decision making, secondly, people having the equal rights to vote and elect their own leaders implying that they have capability enough to make judgments about who they would want to take care of their welfare at their own discretion (2006, p.16).

The different styles of equality have proponents and those opposing and it has been very difficult to realize a compromise on these issues. According to the a report on the Harvard website, equality of welfare is considered as the distribution of sensitive forms of political welfarism in the claim that justice of distribution depends on how welfare is distributed amongst people in the society. It is however very clear that Rawls and Dworkin's reject the welfarist claim noting that utilitarianism is considered as a form of welfarism which, is not distribution sensitive due to the fact that it demands the simple maximization of welfare. It is however stated by the Dworkin encyclopedia that equality signifies correspondence between a group of different objects, people, processes and the circumstances that have similar quality in at least one respect but may not be in all aspects. In distinguishing numerical identity, a judgment is made of equality that it presumes a difference between the objects being compared.

Equality has a very close connection with morality and justice in general and the distributive justice to be very specific. In history, people have had difficulty in the usage of the terms justice and equality. According to the Dworkin encyclopedia, philosophers have defended a variety of principles and conceptions of equality, many of which will be shortly covered.

Equality of welfare according to Thomas is the distribution or transfer of gods until no further such allocation will leave any person more equal in welfare. This is to say that giving people equal rights in terms of welfare or general wellbeing. This may be very difficult considering the various levels and stratifications that have been established in society and continue to be setup. Thomas states that in order to have a clear picture, it is necessary to decide what is meant by welfare and as Kaufman states, criticism is made of egalitarian justice that is said to be concerned, fundamentally, with welfare that a given distribution of goods produces and not with literal distribution of goods and a second account concerning the equality of resources that argues that egalitarians are most fundamentally concerned with assuring people in the society are receiving shares of resources (2005, p.1). There many conflicts that would arise in these cases since many people differ in the level of productivity and would claim that there is no possibility of everyone being equal in terms of the resources allocation. Sen argues that the egalitarians are not simply concerned with resources distribution since people vary in their efficiency in transforming the available resources into a beneficial life. Literally, a person with a heavy weight cannot be treated equally if he or she is provided with the same amount of food as one who is skinny or small sized in terms of their weights (2001).

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Proportional Equality

Proportion is a very good idea when distribution is being done especially of goods or products and in this case resource. According to Aristotle, there are two kinds of equality, numerical and proportional. The treatment of people when distributing resource is equal in numeric especially when it treats everybody as indistinguishable and this therefore means that people are handled as being identical and hence granting them the same quantity of resources. Even though this may not be just it is in contrast to other forms where distribution is proportional or relatively equal in that people are treated in relation to certain identified traits or with just due. This, according to Dworkin is considered as just numerical equality and is a special case of proportional equality. It is therefore said that when factors speak for unequal treatment or distribution, due to the fact that people are unequal in relevant aspects, then the proportional distribution to these factors is just. The unequal claims to treatment have then to be considered proportionally as prerequisite for people being considered equal.

Currently it is widely being accepted that equal dignity in treatment of persons has to be regarded as a minimum standard. Even though people have misunderstandings regarding moral equality, there is need to clarify the importance. According to Thomas, a postulate of equality implies that underneath apparent differences, there are certain recognizable items that exist and can be said to be equal (1949, p.4). in a more common distinction, Dworkin states that moral equality can be understood as prescribing treatment of people as equals for instance where the people’s concerns and respect are equal and not regarded as the often implausible principle of equal treatment (1977, p.370). It is widely accepted that the fundamental idea of equal respect for everyone and the equal worthiness or dignity of all human beings as a minimum standard by a number of leading schools of moral culture. Sen suggest that there exist a distinction between income inequality and economic inequality and this is very important. The fact that people may be endowed differently implies that they may at the end of the day not get equal pay or incomes. Even though it is argued that economists lean on efficiency than equity, there are some grounds for complaint where the attention is received from economic discipline (2001, p.108). There is a considerable relationship between income inequality and inequality in other relevant spaces hence a distant and contingency since various economic influences affect inequalities in individuals and also their freedoms.

It is very clear that equality of welfare has its own defects and the fact that it has been motivated by an intuition that when it comes to ethics of politics, the item at stake is the people’s well-being. This has been found to contribute to major differences and difficulties which resemble those of utilitarianism. It is argued that any welfare focused concept of equality will automatically grant people refined and expensive taste for more resources and this is very distinctly against the moral intuition. Dworkin suggests that satisfaction in the fulfillment of people’s desires cannot serve as a minimum standard by which equality is to be based since different people wish for many different levels and feelings of happiness (1981). It is therefore a general agreement that equality of welfare is workable only with a total understanding of how important welfare is to different people. Clarke, states state that if the government had a duty to treat all the citizens equally, what does this duty require? And how do we treat people equally? Dworkin argues that equality of welfare is not a very best approach to treatment of people with fairness and justice. The main objection points for equality of welfare are the fact that there are very expensive tastes of different people. This means that it would require compensation of persons who have freely and willingly chosen very expensive tastes and this might have been done on purpose to bring them to a similar level of welfare with others maybe friends or foes (2000).

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Equality of Resources

This is argued as the best option in terms of lack of consideration of expensive taste and differing comparisons of people. This theory does not hold individuals responsible for their choices and also actions but the circumstances beyond their control such as skin color, race or sex and also their social position. The factor that control the equality in this case are very exclusive as distributive criteria and can therefore not limit the degree or limit of equality. Equal opportunity is insufficient since it does not compensate for unequal innate gifts according to the Dworkin Study. Rawls argues that human beings should have the same initial expectation of basic goods or needs for instance the all-purpose items and in this way there is no way to preclude ending up with different quantities of the given products or resources. This in its factual sense may not be very much possible or even achievable (1993, p.5). When a given primary importance is accorded an assurance of equal basic freedoms and rights, the traits of inequality are just when they fulfill two ideas; one, they have to be linked to offices and or even positions that are very open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity and secondly, that they give reflection to famous different principles in offering the greatest possible advantage or upper hand to the people who are least advantaged by the society or even resources and endowment.

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It is been argued that capabilities bring about responsibility but a closer look reveals that capabilities has various combination of functioning that a person can achieve. According to Kaufman, a person’s capabilities set represents the alternative combinations of simultaneously attainable functioning that can be available to that particular person. In a recent scholarly work Kaufman, states that capabilities approach has been extended beyond the accounts of the currency of equality (2005, p.2). Kaufman asserts that Martha Nussaum, in particular argued that for a political approach based on ideas of capability and functioning, working from an aspect of the minimal conditions. The arguments of moral arbitrariness of talents make provision for certain accepted criteria for merit. The only differing principle being the fact that people are allowed to have various talents and earn more to the extent that it raises the lowest incomes as well as being an encouragement to work hard and gain responsibility for the resources acquired. According to Rawls, with regard to the various basic structure of the society, there are different principles that need to be adopted for the people who have chosen ignorance or regard personal and historical circumstances and that are similar in factor; there are principles or concepts that offer a general assurance of not totally submitting to the hazards or dangers of a free societal situation. The theory of Justice by Rawls is a very classical focal point of the current day socio-political arena and is worth noting to the effect that differences in theory claims to be egalitarian. It is with regard to the sense of justice that Rawls proposed that natural basis for equal human worth should be the minimum capacity for having a conception of the god and a sense of justice.

Secondly, a veil of ignorance is the object through which people are conceived as equals in the original state. This is a very simple concept but many have come not to accept and believe. Thirdly, the idea of sharing the original state presupposes the parties having political equality as well as being equal participants in the process of choosing the right rules or precepts by which people would be governed. Fourthly, Rawls proposes the equality of opportunity maintain that all desert must be initially defined and that has to depend on the goals of the society since nobody deserves their talents or circumstances. This gives the impression that people should not be very forceful as has been clearly seen by the agitation to get rich or a lot more resources that the rest. Everything available is a product of natural lottery and finally the principle tends toward equalizing holdings. It is very categorical, when Dworkin’s equality of resources stakes a claim to being even more ‘ambition-sensitive’. Dworkin argues that the concentration of equality of welfare makes people equal in what really matters to the very persons (1981). For instance there are people who value happiness while other think it is their degree of engagement in the worthwhile activities that matter. Other people would still consider that what really matters is informed preference of satisfaction (Griffin, 1986).

Equality and Responsibility

The principle of responsibility provides a very central normative focal point for making a contrite choice or decision on the grounds of people to justify the type of inequality. Some egalitarians hold inequality to be bad but currently most egalitarians are very pluralistic thus recognizing that other values besides equality matter and are of consequences with regard to the degrees of inequality or equality. It is very important to consider personal responsibility in order to be very effective implementers of the principle of responsibility. According to Anderson, unequal shares of social goods are thus fair if the results from the choices made at that particular instance are good and intentional actions of the parties concerned (Dworkin 1981:Anderson, 1999). It is needful to understand that anything for which we as humans are not responsible should not be considered a relevant ground for unequal distribution and also recognition of the fact that both natural endowment and social status are excluded and this consists of irrelevant grounds for exception. Just distribution must be simultaneously insensitive to endowment and very much sensitive to responsibility in order to be accredited with justice performance. When people consider natural and social graces and gifting, there must be no count of personal intentions and voluntary decisions must in every way count due to the fact that social order is only considered just when it equalizes as much as is possible and in normatively plausible way, with everybody’s personal disadvantages that make them responsible.

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There are responsibilities to be considered even if the tastes of people were the driving factors for them choosing to do whatever they do. According to Kaufman, if people require satisfaction of exorbitantly expensive tastes in order to avoid a welfare deficit then someone must satisfy the taste with compensation of some sort and this is the ill of equality of welfare. It therefore means that equality of welfare appears to require no special compensation for persons whose tastes are naturally deformed by the morally arbitrary cultural effects (2005). It is therefore wise to consider ambition sensitivity and also endowment insensitivity. Equality of resources therefore compensates individuals who have been impoverished through lack of talent and ability to perform but still opportunity granted to them to do that which is within their capability goes along way into enabling these persons enjoy the level of equality just like others who have been endowed with various capabilities.

Equality is a very vibrant area that interests a lot and much of the work conducted has been in response to an agenda set by Robert Nozick’s powerful criticism of equality and the claim of neglect of personal responsibility within the egalitarian theory. It is realized that the arguments might have distorted the theory but paying too much on issues of personal responsibility, choice and fairness and neglect of the traditional egalitarian concerns of respect for individuality social division, oppression and domination would bring about improvement in the areas of equality, work and rewards. Dworkin favours an equalizing compensation scheme for inequalities in external resources holdings as well as for inequalities of personal talents and handicaps between different individuals. The rejection of both equality of welfare and the starting gate theory of justice implies the regard of all theories based on notions of equality of welfare as defective conceptions of equality since irrespective of how welfare is defined; the versions of the theories mistakenly require the subsidization of expensive tastes (2000, pp.11-64)


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In the consideration of equality, many facets of arguments have always arisen and these must be treated with sensitivity since differing views result from the fact that people are different and not all persons will get equal share of whatever resources that are in existence even if it were that all were to be the same. It is therefore argued that equality of opportunity for welfare should be the most logical move that will probably justify rejection of equality of welfare. Giving people equal opportunity amounts to giving them the right to choose where they want to go, how much they want to earn or acquire. This must be done with a full understanding that responsibility is not an option but a very important priority is the quest for individual rights and equality. Giving people the equal opportunity warrants that everybody becomes responsible and very much willing to take care of all that they have decided no matter the consequences.

Fair distribution of resources should be ambition-sensitive and circumstances insensitive but also when inequalities are uninsurable thus the handicaps that extend over a whole lifespan. Therefore to ensure justice in the equality circles, there has to be rational assessment of risks and purposes of decisions that are being made. It is very important to consider those who are very much willing to perform but due to physical incapacitations, they cannot. It is only fair to give them a chance to prove that they can also contribute to the general wellbeing of others and especially if they were in a family setting.



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