A Response to Tan - The Journal of Philosophy
109 (2012), 433-448.
Kok-Chor Tan’s article “A Defense of Luck Egalitarianism” is the most sophisticated reformulation of the luck egalitarian ideal so far. It argues that the luck egalitarian key distinction between luck and choice should be seen as a grounding principle for the specific domain of distributive justice as distinct from other branches of justice, such as political justice. And it argues that luck egalitarians should object only to unchosen inequalities brought about by social and political institutions. Luck egalitarianism so redefined is supposed to be a strong rival to a grounding principle of democratic reciprocity, such as put forward by John Rawls. This response argues that Tan’s restriction and redefinition of luck egalitarianism do not succeed in establishing it as a rival to democratic reciprocity. Rather, Tan has won a pyrrhic victory for luck egalitarianism: his corrected, institutional version of it may be more plausible than unrestricted luck egalitarianism, but it is better accounted for by an ideal of democratic reciprocity, rather than by an ideal of equality of luck proper. Taken on its own, it would be conceptually unsound. There is hence good reason to doubt that the luck egalitarian intuition can serve as the foundation for viable theories of justice, rather than merely being one among many intuitions of relevance to justice.